Early Church Fathers
Sermon XXXIV. [LXXXIV. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Matt. xix. 17, "If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments."
1. The Lord said to a certain young man, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."1 He did not say, "If thou wilt enterinto life eternal," but "If thou wilt enter into life;" laying down that as life, which is to be life eternal. Let us first then set forth the value of the love of this life. For even this present life, under whatever circumstances, is loved; and men fear and dread to end it of whatever kind it be; however full of trouble and misery. Hence may we see, hence consider, how the life eternal should be loved; when this life so miserable, and which must sometime come to an end, is loved so much. Consider, Brethren, how greatly should that life be loved, where thou wilt never end life. Thou dost love, it seems, this present life, where thou dost labour so much, hastest to and fro, art busy, sufferest fatigue; yea scarcely to be enumerated are the necessities of this miserable life; sowing, ploughing, clearing the ground, sailing, grinding, cooking, weaving; and after all these things thou hast to end thy life. See the evils thou dost suffer in this miserable life, which thou lovest; and dost thou think that thou shalt always live, and never die? Temples, stones, marbles, joined so strongly together with iron and lead, fall into ruin for all their strength; and does a man suppose that he shall never die? Learn then, Brethren, to seek for eternal life, where you will not endure all this, but will reign with God for ever. "For he who wisheth life," as the Prophet says, "loveth to see good days."2 For in evil days death is rather wished for than life. Do we not hear and see men when they are involved in some tribulations and distresses, in law-suits or sicknesses and they see that they are in travail, do we not hear them saying nothing else but, "O God, send me death, hasten my days"? Yet when sickness comes, they run about, and physicians are fetched, and money and rewards are promised. Death himself says to thee, "Lo, here I am, whom but a little while ago thou wert asking of the Lord, why wouldest thou fly from me now? I have found thee to be a self-deceiver, and a lover of this miserable life."
2. But as concerning these days which we are passing now, the Apostle says, "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."3 Are not these days indeed evil which we spend in this corruptible flesh, in or under so heavy a load of the corruptible body, amid so great temptations, amid so great difficulties, where there is but false pleasure, no security of joy, a tormenting fear, a greedy covetousness, a withering sadness? Lo, what evil days! yet no one is willing to end these same evil days, and hence men earnestly pray God that they may live long. Yet what is it to live long, but to be long tormented? What is it to live long, but to add evil days to evil l days? When boys are growing up, it is as if days are being added to them; whereas they do not know that they are being diminished; and their very reckoning is false. For as we grow in up, the number of our days rather diminishes than increases. Appoint for any man at his birth, for instance, eighty years; every day he lives, he diminishes somewhat of that sum. Yet silly men rejoice at the oft-recurring birthdays, both of themselves and their children. O sensible man! If the wine in thy bottle is diminished, thou art sad; days art thou losing, and art thou glad? These days then are evil; and so much the more evil, in that they are loved. This world is so alluring, that no one is willing to finish a life of sorrow. For the true, the blessed life is this, when we shall rise again, and reign with Christ. For the ungodly too shall rise again but to go into the fire. Life then is thereagain, but that which is blessed. And blessed life there can be none but that which is eternal, where are "good days;" and those not many days, but one day. They are called "days" after the custom of this life. That day knows no rising, it knows no setting. To that day there succeeds no to-morrow; because no yesterday precedes it. This day, or these days, and this life, this true life, have we in promise. It is then the reward of a certain work. So if we love the reward, let us not fail in the work; and so shall we reign with Christ for ever.