Early Church Fathers
Sermon XLVI. [XCVI. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Mark viii. 34, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself," etc. And on the words 1 John chapter ii, verse 15, "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
1. Hard and grievous does that appear which the Lord hath enjoined, that "whosoever will come after Him, must deny himself."1 But what He enjoineth is not hard or grievous, who aideth us that what He enjoineth may be done. For both is that true which is said to Him in the Psalm, "Because of the words of Thy lips I have kept hard ways."2 And that is true which He said Himself, "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."3 For whatsoever is hard in what is enjoined us, charity makes easy. We know what great things love itself can do. Very often is this love even abominable and impure; but how great hardships have men suffered, what indignities and intolerable things have they endured, to attain to the object of their love? whether it be a lover of money who is called covetous; or a lover of honour, who is called ambitious; or a lover of beautiful women, who is called voluptuous. And who could enumerate all sorts of loves? Yet consider what labour all lovers undergo, and are not conscious of their labours; and then does any such one most feel labour, when he is hindered from labour. Since then the majority of men are such as their loves are, and that there ought to be no other care for the regulation of our lives, than the choice of that which we ought to love; why dost thou wonder, if he who loves Christ, and who wishes to follow Christ, for the love of Him denies himself? For if by loving himself man is lost, surely by denying himself be is found.
2. The first destruction of man, was the love of himself. For if he had not loved himself, if he had preferred God to himself, he would have been willing to be ever subject unto God; and would not have been turned to the neglect of His will, and the doing his own will. For this is to love one's self, to wish to do one's own will. Prefer to this God's will; learn to love thyself by not loving thyself. For that ye may know that it is a vice to love one's self, the Apostle speaks thus, "For men shall be lovers of their own selves."4 And can he who loves himself have any sure trust in himself? No; for he begins to love himself by forsaking God, and is driven away from himself to love those things which are beyond himself; to such a degree that when the aforesaid Apostle had said," Men shall be lovers of their own selves," he subjoined immediately, "lovers of money." Already thou seest that thou art without. Thou hast begun to love thyself: stand in thyself if thou canst. Why goest thou without? Hast thou, as being rich in money, become a lover of money? Thou hast begun to love what is without thee, thou hast lost thyself. When a man's love then goes even away froth himself to those things which are without, he begins to share thevanity of his vain desires, and prodigal as it were to spend his strength. He is dissipated, exhausted, without resource or strength, he feeds swine; and wearied with this office of feeding swine, he at last remembers what he was, and says, "How many hired servants of my Father's are eating bread, and I here perish with hunger!"5 But when the son in the parable says this, what is said of him, who had squandered all he had on harlots, who wished to have in his own power what was being well kept for him with his father; he wished to have it at his own disposal, he squandered all, he was reduced to indigence: what is said of him? "And when he returned to himself." If"he returned to himself," he had gone away from himself. Because he had fallen from himself, had gone away from himself, he returns first to himself, that he may return to that state from which he had fallen away by falling from himself. For as by falling away from himself, he remained in himself; so by returning to himself, he ought not to remain in himself, lest he again go away from himself. Returning then to himself, that he might not remain in himself, what did he say? "I will arise and go to my Father."6 See, whence he had fallen away from himself, he had fallen away from his Father; he had fallen away from himself, he had gone away from himself to those things which are without. He returns to himself, and goes to his Father, where he may keep himself in all security. If then he had gone awayfrom himself, let him also in returning to himself,from whom he had gone away, that he may "go to his Father," deny himself. What is "deny himself"? Let him not trust in himself, let him feel that he is a man, and have respect to the words of the prophet, "Cursed is every one that putteth his hope in than."7 Let him withdraw himself from himself, but not towards things below. Let him withdraw himself from himself, that he may cleave unto God. Whatever of good he has, let him commit to Him by whom he was made; whatever of evil he has, he has made it for himself.The evil that is in him God made not; let himdestroy what himself has done, who has beenthereby undone. "Let him deny himself," He saith, "and take up his cross, and follow Me."
3. And whither must the Lord be followed? Whither He is gone, we know; but a very few days since we celebrated the solemn memorial of it. For He has risen again, and ascended into heaven; thither must He be followed. Undoubtedly we must not despair of it, because He hath Himself promised us, not because man can do anything. Heaven was far away from us, before that our Head had gone into heaven. But now why should we despair, if we are members of that Head? Thither then must He be followed. And who would be unwilling to follow Him to such an abode? Especially seeing that we are in so great travail on earth with fears and pains. Who would be unwilling to follow Christ thither, where is supreme felicity, supreme peace, perpetual security? Good is it to follow Him thither: but we must see by what way we are to follow. For the Lord Jesus did not say the words we are engaged in, when He had now risen from the dead. He had not yet suffered, He had still to come to the Cross, had to come to His dishonouring, to the outrages, the scourging, the thorns, the wounds, the mockeries, the insults, Death. Rough as it were is the way; it makes thee to be slow; thou hast no mind to follow. But follow on. Rough is the way which man has made for himself, but what Christ hath trodden in His passage is worn smooth. For who would not wish to go to exaltation? Elevation is pleasing to all; but humility is the step to it. Why dost thou put out thy foot beyond thee? Thou hast a mind to fall, not to ascend. Begin by the step, and so thou hast ascended. This step of humility those two disciples were loth to have an eye to, who said, "Lord, bid that one of us may sit at Thy right hand, and the other at the left in Thy kingdom."8 They sought for exaltation, they did not see the step. But the Lord showed them the step. For what did He answer them? "Ye who seek the hill of exaltation, can ye drink the cup of humiliation?" And therefore He does not say simply, "Let him deny himself, and follow Me" howsoever: but He said more, "Let him take up his cross, and follow Me."
4. What is, "Let him take up his cross "? Let him bear whatever trouble he has; so let him follow Me. For when he shall begin to follow Me in conformity to My life and precepts, he will have many to contradict him, he will have many to hinder him, he will have many to dissuade him, and that from among those who are even as it were Christ's companions. They who hindered the blind men from crying out were walking with Christ.9 Whether therefore they be threats or caresses, or whatsoever hindrances there be, if thou wish to follow, turn them into thy cross, bear it, carry it, do not give waybeneath it. There seems to be an exhortation to martyrdom in these words of the Lord. If there be persecution, ought not all things to be despised in consideration of Christ? The world is loved; but let Him be preferred by whom the world was made. Great is the world; but greater is He by whom the world was made. Fair is the world; but fairer is He by whom the world was made. Sweet is the world; but sweeter is He by whom the world was made. Evil is the world; and good is He by whom the world was made. How shall I be able to explain and unravel what I have said? May God help me? For what have I said? what have ye applauded? See, it is but a question, and yet ye have already applauded. How is the world evil, if He by whom the world was made is good? Did not God make all things, "and behold they were very good "? Does not Scripture at each severalwork of creation testify that God made it good, by saying, "And God saw that it was good,"and at the end summed them all up togetherthus how that God had made them, "And behold they were very good"?10
5. How then is the world evil, and He good by whom the world was made? How? "Since the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not."11 The world was made by Him, the heaven and earth and all things that are in them: "the world knew Him not," the lovers of the world; the lovers of the world and the despisers of God; this "world knew Him not." So then the world is evil, because they are evil who prefer the world to God. And He is good who made the world, the heaven, and earth, and sea, and themselves who love the world. For this only, that they love the world and do not loveGod, He made not in them. But themselves, all that appertains to their nature He made; what appertains to guiltiness, He made not. This is that I said a little while ago, "Let man efface what he has made, and so will he be well-pleasing to Him who made Him."
6. For there is among men themselves a good world also; but one that has been made good from being evil. For the whole world if you take the word "world" for men, putting aside (what we call the world) the heaven and earth and all things that in them are; if you take the world for men, the whole world did he who first sinned make evil. The whole mass was corrupted in the root. God made man good; so runs the Scripture, "God made man upright; and men themselves found out many cogitations."12 Run from these "many" to One, gather up thyscattered things into one: flow on together, fence thyself in, abide with One; go not to many things. There is blessedness. But we have flowed away, have gone on to perdition: we were all born with sin, and to that sin wherein we were born have we too added by our evil living, and the whole world has become evil. But Christ came, and He chose that which He made, not what He found; for He found all evil, and by His grace He made them good. And so was made another "world;" and the "world" now persecutes the "world."
7. What is the "world" which persecutes? That of which it is said to us, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, is the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,"13 even as God abideth for ever. Lo! have spoken of two "worlds," the "world" which persecutes, and that which it persecutes. What is the "world" which persecutes? "All that is the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but of the world;" and "the world passeth away." Lo, this is the "world" which persecutes. What is the "world" which it persecutes? "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever," even as God abideth for ever.
8. But see, that which persecutes is called the "world;" let us prove whether that also which suffers persecution is called "the world." What! Art thou deaf to the voice of Christ who speaketh, or rather to Holy Scripture which testifieth, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself."14 "If the world hate you, know ye that it first hated Me."15 See, the "world" hates. What does it hate but the "world"? What "world"? "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." The condemned "world" persecutes; the reconciled "world" suffers persecution. The condemned "world" is all that is without the Church; the reconciled "world" is the Church. For He says, "The Son of Man came not to judge the world, but that the world through Him may be saved."16
9. Now in this world, holy, good, reconciled, saved, or rather to be saved, and now saved in hope, "for we are saved in hope;"17 in this world, I say, that is in the Church which wholly follows Christ, He hath said as of universal application, "Whosoever will follow Me, let him deny himself." For it is not that the virgins ought to give ear to this, and the married women ought not; or that the widows ought, and the women who still have their husbands ought not; or that monks ought, and the married men ought not; or that the clergy ought, and the laymen ought not: but let the whole Church, the whole body, all the members, distinguished and distributed throughout their several offices, follow Christ. Let the whole Church follow Him, that only Church, let the dove follow Him, let the spouse follow Him, let her who has been redeemed and endowed with the Bridegroom's blood, follow Him. There virgin purity hath its place; there widowed continence hath its place; married chastity there hath its place; but adultery hath no place of its own there; and no place there hath lasciviousness, unlawful and meet for punishment. But let these several members which have their place there, in their kind and place and measure, "follow Christ;" let them "deny themselves;" that is, let them presume nothing of themselves: let them "take up their cross," that is, let them in the world endure for Christ's sake whatever the world may bring upon them. Let them love Him, who Alone doth not deceive, who Alone is not deceived, Alone deceiveth not; let them love Him, for that is true which He doth promise. But because He doth not give at once, faith wavers. Hold on, persevere, endure, bear delay and thou hast borne the cross.
10. Let not the virgin say, "I shall alone be there." For Mary shall not be there alone but the widow Anna shall be there also. Let notthe woman which hath an husband say, "The widow will be there, not I;" for it is not that Anna will be there, and Susanna not be there. But by all means let them who would be there prove themselves hereby, that they who have here a lower place envy not, but love in others the better place. For, for instance, my Brethren, that ye may understand me; one man has chosen a married life, another a life of continence; if he who has chosen the married life, has adulterous lusts, he has "looked back;" he has lusted after that which is unlawful. He too who would wish afterwards to return from continence to a married life, has "looked back;" he has chosen what is in itself lawful, yet he has "looked back." Is marriage then to be condemned? No. Marriage is not to be condemned; but see whither he had come who has chosen it. He had already got before it. When he was living as a young man in voluptuousness, marriage was before him; he was making hisway towards it; but when he had chosen continence, marriage was behind him. "Remember," saith the Lord, "Lot's wife."18 Lot's wife, by looking behind, remained motionless. To whatever point then any one has been able to reach, let him fear to "look back" from thence; and let him walk in the way, let him "follow Christ." "Forgetting those things which are behind, and stretching forth unto those things which are before, let him by an earnest inward intention press on toward the prize of the calling of God in Christ Jesus."19 Let those that are married regard the unmarried as above themselves; let them acknowledge that they are better; let them in them love what themselves have not; and let them in them love Christ.