Early Church Fathers
Sermon LXV. [CXV. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Luke xviii. 1,"They ought always to pray, and not to faint," etc. And on the two who went up into the temple to pray: and of the little children who were presented unto Christ.
1. The lesson of the Holy Gospel builds us up unto the duty of praying and believing, and of not putting our trust in ourselves, but in the Lord. What greater encouragement to prayer than the parable which is proposed to us of the unjust judge? For an unjust judge, who feared not God, nor regarded man, yet gave ear to a widow who besought him, overcome by her importunity, not inclined thereto by kindness.1 If he then heard her prayer, who hated to be asked, how must He hear who exhorts us to ask? When therefore by this comparison from a contrary case theLord had taught that" men ought always to pray and not to faint,"2 He added and said, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man shall come, thinkest thou that He shall find faith on the earth?"3 If faith fail, prayer perishes. For who prays for that which he does not believe? Whence also the blessed Apostle, when he exhorted to prayer, said, "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved."4 And in order to show that faith is the fountain of prayer, he went on and said, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?"5 So then that we may pray, let us believe; and that this same faith whereby we pray fail not, let us pray. Faith pours out prayer, and the pouring out of prayer obtains the strengthening of faith. Faith, I say, pours out prayer, the pouring out of prayer obtains strengthening even for faith itself. For that faith might not fail in temptations, therefore did the Lord say," Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation."6 "Watch," He saith, "and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." What is to "enter into temptation," but to depart from faith? For so far temptation advances as faith gives way: and so far temptation gives way, as faith advances. For that you may know, Beloved, more plainly, that the Lord said, "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation," as touching faith lest it should fail and perish; He said in the same place of the Gospel "This night hath Satan desired to sift7 you as wheat, and I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not."8 He that defendeth prayeth, and shall not he pray who is in peril? For in the words of the Lord, "when the Son of Man shall come, thinkest thou that He shall find faith on the earth?" He spoke of that faith, which is perfect. For it is scarce found on the earth. Lo! this Church of God is full: and who would come hither, if there were no faith? But who would not remove mountains, if there were full faith? Look at the very Apostles: they would not have left all they had, have trodden under foot this world's hope, and followed the Lord, if they had not had great faith; and yet if they had full faith, they would not have said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."9 See again, that man confessing both of himself (behold faith, yet not full faith), who when he had presented to the Lord his son to be cured of an evil spirit, and was asked whether he believed, answered and said, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.10 "Lord," says he, "I believe," I believe; therefore there was faith. But "help Thou mine unbelief," thereforethere was not frill faith.
2. But inasmuch as faith belongs not to the proud, but to the humble, "He spake this parable unto certain who seemed to themselves to be righteous, and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee said, God, I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men."11 He might at least have said, "as many men." What does, "as the rest of men," mean, but all except himself? "I," he says, "am just, the rest are sinners." "I am not as the rest of men, unjust, extortioners, adulterers." And, lo, from thy neighbour, the publican, thou takest occasion of greater pride. "As," he says, "this publican." "I," he says, "am alone, he is of the rest." "I am not," says he, "such as he is, through my righteous deeds, whereby I have no unrighteousness." "I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."12 In all his words seek out for any one thing that he asked of God, and thou wilt find nothing. He went up to pray: he had no mind to pray to God, but to laud himself. Nay, it is but a small part of it, that he prayed not to God, but lauded himself. More than this he even mocked him that did pray. "But the Publican stood afar off;"13 and yet he was in deed near to God. The consciousness of his heart kept him off, piety brought him close. "But the Publican stood afar off:" yet the Lord regarded him near. "For the Lord is high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly."14 But "those that are high" as was this Pharisee, "He knoweth afar off. "The high" indeed "God knoweth afar off," but He doth not pardon them. Hear still more the humility of the Publican. It is but a small matter that he stood afar off; "he did not even lift up his eyes unto heaven." He looked not, that he might be looked upon. He did not dare to look upwards, his conscience pressed him down: but hope lifted him up. Hear again, "he smote his breast." He punished himself: wherefore the Lord spared him for his confession. "He smote his breast, saying, Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." See who he is that prays. Why dost thou marvel that God should pardon, when he acknowledges his own sin? Thus thou hast heard the cases of the Pharisee and Publican; now hear the sentence; thou hast heard the proud accuser, thou hast heard the humble criminal; hear nowthe Judge. "Verily I say unto you." The Truth saith, God saith, the Judge saith it. "VerilyI say unto you, That Publican went down from the temple justified rather than that Pharisee."15 Tell us, Lord, the cause. Lo! I see that the publican goes down from the temple justified rather than the Pharisee. I ask why? Dost thou ask why? Hear why. "Because every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."16 Thou hast heard the sentence, beware of its evil cause. In other words, thou hast heard the sentence, beware of pride.
3. Let now those ungodly babblers, whosoever they be, who presume on their own strength, let them hear and see these things: let them hear who say, God made me a man, I make myself just. O thou who art worse and more detestable than the Pharisee! The Pharisee in the Gospel did indeed call himself just, but yet he gave thanks to God for it. He called himself just, but yet he gave God thanks. "I thank Thee, O God, that I am not as the rest of men." "I thank Thee, O God. He gives God thanks, that he is not as the rest of men: and yet he is blamed as being proud and puffed up; not in that he gave God thanks, but in that he desired as it were no more to be added unto him. "I thank thee that I am not as the rest of men, unjust." So then thou art just; so then thou askest for nothing; so then thou art full already; so then the life of man is not a trial upon earth;17 so then thou art full already; so then thou aboundest already, so then thou hast no ground for saying, "Forgive us our debts!" What must his case be then who impiously impugns grace, if he is blamed who give thanks proudly?
4. And, lo, after the case had been stated, and the sentence pronounced, little children also came forth, yea, rather, are carried and presented to be touched. To be touched by whom, but the Physician? Surely, it will be said, they must be whole. To whom are the infants presented to be touched? To whom? To the Saviour. If to the Saviour, they are brought to be saved. To whom, but to Him "who came to seek and to save what was lost."18 How were they lost? As far as concerns them personally, I see that they are without fault, I am seeking for their guiltiness. Whence is it? I listen to the Apostle, "By one man sin entered into the world. By one man," he says, "sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men by him in whom all sinned."19 Let then the little children come, let them come: let the Lord be heard. "Suffer little children to come unto Me."20 Let the little ones come, let the sick come to the Physician, the lost to their Redeemer: let them come, let no man hinder them. In the branch they have not yet committed any evil, but they are ruined in their root. "Let the Lord bless the small with the great."21 Let the Physician touch both small and great. the cause of the little ones we commend to their eiders. Speak ye for them who are mute, pray for them who weep. If ye are not their elders to no purpose, be ye their guardians: defend them who are not able yet to manage their own cause. Common is the loss, let the finding be common: we were lost all together, together be we found in Christ. Uneven is the desert, but common is the grace. They have no evil but what they have drawn from the source: they have no evil but what they have derived from the first original. Let not them keep them off from salvation. who to what they have so derived have added much more evil. The eider in age is the eider in iniquity too. But the grace of God effaceswhat thou hast derived, effaces too what thou hast added. For, "where sin abounded, gracehath superabounded."22