Early Church Fathers
Sermon XXXV. [LXXXV. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Matt. xix. 17,"If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments."
1. The Gospel lesson which has now sounded in our ears, Brethren, requires rather an attentive hearer and a doer, than an expositor. What is more clear than this light, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments"?1 What then have I to say but, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments"? Who is there that does not wish for life? and yet who is there that does wish to keep the commandments? If thou dost not wish to keep the commandments, why seekest thou after life? If thou art slow to the work, why dost thou hasten to the reward? The rich young man in the Gospel said that he had kept the commandments; then he heard the greater precepts, "If thou wilt be perfect, one thing is lacking to thee, go sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor;" thou shalt not lose them, but "thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow Me."2 For what shall it profit thee, if thou shalt do all the rest, and yet not follow Me?" But as ye have heard, "he went away" sad and "sorrowful; for he had great riches." What he heard, have we heard also. The Gospel is Christ's voice. He sitteth in heaven; but He doth not cease to speak on earth. Let us not be deaf, for He is crying out. Let us not be dead; for He is thundering. If thou wilt not do the greater things, do at least the less. If the burden of the greater be too much for thee, at least take up the less. Why art thou slow to both? why settest thyself against both? The greater are, "Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and follow Me." The less are, "Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shall not steal, Thou shall not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself."3 These do; why do I call to thee, to sell thy possessions, from whom I cannot gain, that thou wouldest keep from plundering what is another's? Thou hast heard, "Thou shalt not steal;" yet thou dost plunder. Before the eyes of so great a Judge, I find thee not a thief only, but a plunderer. Spare thyself, have pity on thyself. This life yet allows thee respite, do not refuse correction. Yesterday thou wast a thief; be not so to-day too. Or if peradventure thou hast been so to-day already, be not so to-morrow. Put a stop sometime to thy evil doing, and so require good for a reward. Thou wouldest have good things, and wouldest not be good; thy life is a contradiction to thy desires. If to have a good country-seat, is a great good: how great an evil must it be to have an evil soul!
2. The rich man "went away sorrowful;" and the Lord said, "How hardly shall he that hath riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!"4 And by putting forth a comparison He showed the difficulty to be such that it was absolutely impossible. For every impossible thing is difficult; but not every difficult thing is impossible. As to how difficult it is, take heed to the comparison; "Verily I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."5 A camel to go through the eye of a needle! If He had said a gnat, it would be impossible. And then when His disciples heard it, they were grieved and said, "If this be so, who then can be saved?"6 What rich man? Give ear then to Christ, ye poor, I am speaking to the people of God. Ye are more of you poor than rich, do ye then at least receive what I say, yet give heed. Whosoever of you boast of your poverty, beware of pride, lest the humble rich surpass you; beware of impiety, lest the pious rich surpass you; beware of drunkenness, lest the sober rich surpass you. Do not glory of your poverty, if they must not glory of their riches.
3. And let the rich give ear, if indeed they are rich; let them give ear to the Apostle, "Charge the rich of this world,"7 for there are who are the rich of another world. The poor are the rich of another world. The Apostles are the rich of another world, who said, "As having nothing, and yet possessing all things."8 So that ye may know of what poor he is speaking he added, "of this world." Let the "rich" then "of this world" give ear to the Apostle, "Charge," he says, "the rich of this world, that they he not proud in their conceits." The first worm of riches is pride.9 A consuming moth, which gnaws the whole, and reduces it even to dust. "Charge them," therefore, "not to be proud in their conceits, nor to trust in the uncertainty of riches" (they are the Apostle's words), "but in the living God." A thief may take away thy gold; who can take away thy God? What hath the rich man, if he hath not God? What hath the poor man not, if he have God? Therefore he says, "Nor to trust in riches, but in the living God, who giveth us all things richly to enjoy;" with which all things He giveth also Himself.
4. If then they ought not to "trust in riches," not to confide in them, "but in the living God;" what are they to do with their riches? Hear what: "Let them be rich in good works."10 What does this mean? Explains, O Apostle. For many are loth to understand what they l are loth to practise. Explain, O Apostle; give none occasion to evil works by the obscurity of thy words. Tell us what thou dost mean by, "let them be rich in good works." Let them hear and understand; let them not be suffered to excuse themselves; but rather let them begin to accuse themselves, and to say what we have just heard in the Psalm," For I acknowledge my sin."11 Tell us what this is, "let them be rich in good works. Let them easily distribute." And what is "let them easily distribute"? What! is this too not understood? "Let them easily distribute, let them communicate." Thou hast, another hath not: communicate, that God may communicate to thee. Communicate here, and thou shalt communicate there. Communicate thy bread here, and thou shalt receive Bread there. What bread here? That which thou dost gather with sweat and toil, according to the curse upon the first man. What Bread there? Even Him who said, "I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven."12 Here thou art rich, but thou art poor there. Gold thou hast, but thou hast not yet the Presence of Christ. Lay out what thou hast, that thou mayest receive what thou hast not. "Let them be rich in good works, let them easily distribute, let them communicate."13
5. Must they then lose all they have? He said, "Let them communicate," not "Let them give the whole." Let them keep for themselves as much as is sufficient for them, let them keep more than is sufficient. Let us give a certain portion of it. What portion? A tenth?14 The Scribes and Pharisees gave tithes for whom Christ had not yet shed His Blood. The Scribes and Pharisees gave tithes; lest haply thou shouldest think thou art doing any great thing in breaking thy bread to the poor; and this is scarcely a thousandth part of thy means. And yet I am not finding fault with this; do even this. So hungry and thirsty am I, that I am glad even of these crumbs. But yet I cannot keep back what He who died for us said whilst He was alive. "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdoms of heaven."15 He does not deal softly with us; for He is a physician, He cuts to the quick. "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The Scribes and Pharisees gave the tenth. How is it with you? Ask yourselves. Consider what you do, and with what means you do it; how much you give, how much you leave for yourselves; what you spend on mercy, what you reserve for luxury. So then, "Let them distribute easily, let them communicate, let them lay up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may hold on eternal life."
6. I have admonished the rich; now hear, ye poor. Ye rich, lay out your money; ye poor, refrain from plundering. Ye rich, distribute your means; ye poor, bridle your desires. Hear, ye poor, this same Apostle; "Godliness with sufficiency is a great getting."16 Getting is the acquiring of gain. The world is yours in common with the rich; ye have not a house in common with the rich, but ye have the heaven in common, the light in common. Seek only for a sufficiency, seek for what is enough, and do not wish for more. All the rest is a weight, rather than a help; a burden, rather than an honour. "Godliness with sufficiency is great gain." First is Godliness. Godliness is the worship of God. "Godliness with sufficiency. For we brought nothing into this world."17 Didst thou bring anything hither? Nay, not even did ye rich bring anything. Ye found all here, ye were born naked as the poor. In both alike is the same bodily infirmity; the same infant crying, the witness of our misery. "For we brought nothing into this world "(he is speaking to the poor)," neither can we carry anything out. And having food and covering, let us be therewith content."18 "For they who wish to be rich." "Who wish to be," not who are. For they who are so, well and good. They have heard their lesson, that they be "rich in good works, that they distribute easily, that they communicate." They have heard already. Do ye now hear who are not yet rich. "They who wish to be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many hurtful and foolish lusts." Do ye not fear? Hear what follows; "which drown men in destruction and perdition."19 Dost thou not now fear? "for avarice is the root of all evil"?20 Avarice is the wishing to be rich, not the being rich already. This is avarice. Dost thou not fear to be "drowned in destruction and perdition"? Dost thou not fear "avarice the root of all evil "? Thou pluckest up out of thy field the root of thorns, and wilt thou not pluck up out of thy heart the root of evil desires? Thou cleansest thy field from which thy body gets its fruit, and wilt thou not cleanse thy heart where thy God indwelleth? "For avarice is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and entangled themselves in many sorrows."
7. Ye have now heard what ye must do, ye have heard what ye must fear, ye have heard how the kingdom of heaven may be purchased, ye have heard by what the kingdom of heaven may be hindered. Be ye all of one mind in obeying the word of God. God made both the rich and poor. Scripture says, "The rich and the poor meet together, the Lord is the Maker of them both."21 The rich and the poor meet together. In what way, except in this present life? The rich and the poor are born alike. Ye meet one another as ye walk on the way together. Do not thou oppress, nor thou defraud. The one hath need, the other hath plenty. But"the Lord is the Maker of them both." By him who hath, He helpeth him that needeth; by him who hath not, He proveth him that hath. We have heard, we have spoken; let us fear, let us take heed, let us pray, let us attain.