Augustine of Hippo
ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, LUKE XII. 56, 58, "YE KNOW HOW TO INTERPRET THE FACE OF THE EARTH AND THE HEAVEN," ETC.; AND OF THE WORDS, "FOR AS THOU ART GOING WITH THINE ADVERSARY BEFORE THE MAGISTRATE, ON THE WAY GIVE DILIGENCE TO BE QUIT OF HIM," ETC.
1. WE have heard the Gospel, and in it the Lord reproving those who knew how to discern the face of the sky, and know not how to discover the time of faith, the kingdom of heaven which is at hand. Now this He said to the Jews; but His words reach even unto us. Now the Lord Jesus Christ Himself began the preaching of His Gospel in this way; "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." In like manner too John the Baptist and His forerunner began thus; "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And now the Lord rebuketh those who would not repent, when "the kingdom of heaven was at hand."
"The kingdom of heaven," as He saith Himself, "will not come with observation." And again He saith, "The kingdom of heaven is within you."
Let every one then wisely receive the admonitions of the Master, that he may not lose the season of the mercy of the Saviour, which is now being dealt out, as long as the human race is spared. For to this end is man spared, that he may be converted, and that he may not be to be condemned. God only knoweth when the end of the world shall come: nevertheless now is the time of faith.
Whether the end of the world shall find any of us here, I know not; and perhaps it will not find us. Our time is very near to each one of us, seeing we are mortal. We walk in the midst of chances. If we were made of glass, we should have to fear chances less than we have. What is more fragile than a vessel of glass? And vet it is kept, and lasts for ages. For though the chances of a fall are feared for the vessel of glass, yet there is no fear of fever or old age for it. We then are more fragile and more infirm; because all the chances which are incessant in human things, we doubtless through our frailness are in daily dread of; and if these chances come not, yet time goes on; a man avoids this stroke, can he avoid his end? he avoids accidents which happen from without, can that which is born within be driven away? Again, now the entrails engender worms, now some other disease attacks on a sudden; lastly, let a man be spared ever so long, at last when old age comes, there is no way of putting off that.
2. Wherefore let us give ear to the Lord, let us do within ourselves what He hath enjoined. Let us see who that adversary is, of whom He hath put us in fear, saying, "If thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, give diligence in the way to be delivered from him; lest haply he deliver thee to the magistrate, and the magistrate to the officer, and thou be cast into prison, from whence thou shalt not come out, till thou payest the very last farthing." Who is this "adversary"? If the devil; we have been delivered from him already. What a price was given for us that we might be redeemed from him! Of which the Apostle says, speaking of this our redemption, "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love." We have been redeemed, we have renounced the devil; how shall we "give diligence to be delivered from him," that he make us not, as sinners, his captives again? But this is not the "adversary" of whom the Lord gives us warning. For in another place another Evangelist has so expressed it, that if we join both expressions together, and compare both expressions of the two Evangelists with each other, we shall soon understand who this adversary is. For see, what did Luke say here? "When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, give diligence in the way to be delivered from him."
But the other Evangelist has expressed this same thing thus: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him." All the rest is alike: "Lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison." Both Evangelists have explained this alike. One said, "Give diligence in the way to be delivered from him;" the other said, "Agree with him." For thou wilt not be able to "be delivered from him," unless thou "agree with him." Wouldest thou "be delivered from him? Agree with him." But what? is it the devil with whom the Christian ought to "agree"?
3. Let us then seek out this "adversary," with whom we ought to "agree, lest he deliver us to the judge, and the judge to the officer;" let us seek him out, "and agree with him." If thou sin, the word of God is thine adversary. For example, it is a delight to thee perchance to be drunken; it says to thee, "Do it not." It is a delight to thee to frequent the spectacles, and such triflings; it says to thee, "Do it not." It is a delight to thee to commit adultery; the word of God saith to thee, "Do it not." In what sins soever thou wouldest do thine own will, it saith to thee, "Do it not." It is the adversary of thy will, till it become the author of thy salvation. O how goodly, how useful an "adversary"! It does not seek our will, but our advantage. It is our "adversary," as long as we are our own adversaries. As long as thou art thine own enemy, thou hast the word of God thine enemy; be thine own friend, and thou art in agreement with it. "Thou shalt do no murder;" give ear, and thou hast "agreed" with it. "Thou shalt not steal;" give ear, and thou hast "agreed" with it. "Thou shalt not commit adultery;" give ear, and thou hast "agreed" with it. "Thou shall not give false witness;" give ear, and thou hast "agreed" with it. "Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's wife;" give ear, and thou hast agreed with it. "Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's goods;" give ear, and thou hast "agreed" with it. In all these things thou hast agreed with this "thine adversary," and what hast thou lost to thyself? Not only hast thou lost nothing; but thou hast even found thyself, who hadst been lost. "The way," is this life; if we shall "agree with the adversary," if we shall come to terms with him; when "the way" is ended, we shall not fear the "judge, the officer, the prison.
4. When is "the way" ended? It is not ended at the same hour to all. Each several man hath his hour when he shall end his "way." This life is called "the way;" when thou hast ended this life, thou hast ended "the way." We are going on, and the very living is advancing. Unless peradventure ye imagine that time advances, and we stand still! It cannot be. As time advances, we too advance; and years do not come to us, but rather go away. Greatly are men mistaken when they say, "This boy has little good sense yet, but years will come on him, and he will be wise." Consider what thou sayest. "Will come on him," thou hast said; "I will show that they go away," whereas thou sayest, "they come on." And hear how easily I prove it. Let us suppose that we have known the number of his years from his birth; for instance (that we may wish him well) he has to live fourscore years, he is to arrive at old age. Write down fourscore years. One year he has lived; how many hast thou in the total? how many hast thou down? Fourscore! Deduct one. He has lived ten; seventy remain. He has lived twenty; sixty remain. Yet surely, it will be said, they did come; what can this mean? Our years come that they may depart; they come, I say that they may go. For they do not come, that they may abide with us, but as they pass through us, they wear us out, and make us less and less strong. Such is "the way" into which we have come. What then have we to do with that "adversary," that is, with the word of God? "Agree with him." For thou knowest not when "the way" may be ended. When "the way" is ended, there remain "the judge," and "the officer," and "the prison." But if thou maintain a good will to "thine adversary," and "agree with him;" instead of a "judge," shalt thou find a father, instead of a cruel "officer," an Angel taking thee away into Abraham's bosom, instead of a "prison," paradise. How rapidly hast thou changed all things "in the way," because thou hast "agreed with thine adversary"!