Early Church Fathers
Sermon LXXIX. [CXXIX.. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, John v. 39, "Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life," etc. Against the donatists.
1. Give heed, Beloved, to the lesson of the Gospel which has just sounded in our ears, whilst I speak a few words as God shall vouchsafe to me. The Lord Jesus was speaking to the Jews, and said to them, "Search the Scriptures, in which ye think ye have eternal life, they testify of me."1 Then a little after He said, "I am come in My Father's Name, and ye have not received Me; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."2 Then a little after; "How can ye believe, who look for glory one from another, and seek not the glory which is of God only? "3 At last He saith, "I do not accuse you to the Father; there is one that accuseth you, Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would haply believe Me also, for he wrote of Me. But seeing ye believe not his words, how can ye believe Me? "4 At these sayings which have been set before us from divine5 inspiration, out of the reader's mouth, but by the Saviour's ministry, give ear to a few words, not to be estimated by their number, but to be duly weighed.
2. For all these things it is easy to understand as touching the Jews. But we must beware, lest, when we give too much attention to them, we withdraw our eyes from ourselves. For the Lord was speaking to His disciples; and assuredly what He spake to them, He spake to us too their posterity. Nor to them only does what He said, "Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world,"6 apply, but even to all Christians that should be after them, and succeed them even unto the end of the world. Speaking then to them He said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees."7 They at that the, thought that the Lord had said this, because they had brought no breach; they did not understand that "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" meant, "beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees." What was the doctrine of the Pharisees, but that which ye have now heard? "Seeking glory one of another, looking for glory one from another, and not seeking the glory which is of God only." Of these the Apostle Paul thus speaks; "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge "8 "They have," he says, "a zeal of God;" I know it, I am sure of it; I was once among them, I was such as they. "They have," he says, "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." What is this, O Apostle, "not according to knowledge "? Explain to us what the knowledge is thou dost set forth, which thou dost grieve is not in them, and wouldest should be in us? He went on and subjoined and developed what he had set forth closed. What is, "They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge? For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, have not submitted themselves into the righteousness of God."9 To be ignorant then of God's righteousness, and to wish to establish one's own, this is to "look for glory one from another, and not to seek the glory which is of God only." This is the leaven of the Pharisees. Of this the Lord bids beware. If it is servants that He bids, and the Lord that bids, let us beware; lest we hear, "Why say ye to Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?10
3. Let us then leave a while the Jews to whom the Lord was then speaking. They are without, they will not listen to us, they hate the Gospel itself, they procured false witness against the Lord, that they might condemn Him when alive; other witness they bought with money against Him when dead. When we say to them, "Believe on Jesus," they answer us, "Are we to believe on a dead man?" But when we add, "But He rose again;" they answer, "Not11 at all;" His disciples stole Him away from the sepulchre. The Jewish buyers love falsehood and despise the truth of the Lord, the Redeemer. What thou art saying, O Jew, thy parents bought for money; and this which they bought hath continued in thee. Give heed rather to Him That bought thee, not to him who bought a lie for thee.
4. But as I have said, let us leave these, and attend rather to these our brethren, with whom we have to do. For Christ is the Head of the Body. The Head is in Heaven, the Body is on earth; the Head is the Lord, the Body His Church. But ye remember it is said, "They shall be two in one flesh." "This is a great mystery,"12 says the Apostle, "but I speak in Christ and in the Church."13 If then they are two in one flesh, they are two in one voice. Our Head the Lord Christ spake to the Jews these things which we heard, when the Gospel was being read, TheHead to His enemies; let the Body too, that is, the Church, speak to its enemies. Ye know to whom it should speak. What has it to say? It is not of myself that I have said, that the voice is one; because the flesh is one, the voice is one. Let us then say this to them; I am speaking with the voice of the Church. "O Brethren, dispersed children, wandering sheep, branches cut off, why do ye calumniate me? Why do ye not acknowledge me? "Search the Scriptures, in which ye think ye have eternal life, they testify of me;" to the Jews our Head saith, what the Body saith to you; "Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me."14 Why? Because ye do not "search the Scriptures, which testify of me."
5. A testimony for the Head; "To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."15 A testimony for the body unto Abraham, which the Apostle hath brought forward. "To Abraham were the promises made. As I live, saith the Lord, I swear by Myself, because thou hast obeyed My Voice, and hast not spared thine own beloved son for Me, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea, and in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed."16 Thou hast here a testimony for the Head, and one for the Body. Hear another, short, and almost in one sentence including a testimony for the Head and for the Body. The Psalm was speaking of the Resurrection of Christ; "Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens."17 And immediately for the Body; "And Thy glory above all the earth." Hear a testimony for the Head; "They digged My Hands and My Feet, they numbered all My Bones; and they looked and stared upon Me; they divided My garments among them, and cast lots upon My vesture."18 Hear immediately a testimony for the Body, a few words alter, "All the ends of the world shall remember themselves and be turned unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship in His sight; for the kingdom is the Lord's, and He shall have dominion over the nations."19 Hear for the Head; And "He is as a bridegroom coming forth out of His bride-chamber."20 And in this same Psalm hear for the Body; "Their sound went out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world."21
6. These passages are for the Jews, and for these of our own brethren. Why so? Because these Scriptures of the Old Testament both the Jews receive, and these our brethren receive. But Christ Himself, whom the others do not receive, let us see if these last receive. Let Him speak Himself, speak both for Himself who is the Head, and for His Body which is the Church; for so in us the head speaks for the body. Hear for the Head; He was risen from the dead, He found the disciples hesitating, doubting, not believing for joy; He "opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day." Thus for the Head; let Him speak for the Body too; "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name throughout all nations. beginning at Jerusalem."22 Let the Church then speak to her enemies, let her speak. She does speak clearly, she is not silent: only let them give ear. Brethren, ye have heard the testimonies, now acknowledge me. "Search the Scriptures, in which ye hope ye have eternal life: they testify of me." What I have said is not of mine own, but of my Lord's; and notwithstanding, ye still turn away, still turn your backs. "How can ye believe me, who look for glory one from another, and seek not the glory which is of God only? For being ignorant of God's righteousness, ye have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish your own, ye have not submitted yourselves to the righteousness of God."23 What else is it to be ignorant of God's righteousness, and to wish to establish your own, but to say," It is I who sanctify, it is I who justify; what I may have given is holy "? Leave to God what is God's; recognise, O man, what is man's. Thou art ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishest to establish thine own. Tho dost wish to justify me; it is enough for thee that thou be justified with me.
7. It is said of Antichrist, and all understand of him what the Lord said, "I am come in My Father's Name, and ye have not received Me; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."24 But let us hear John too; "Ye have heard that Antichrist cometh, and even now are there many Antichrists."25 What is it in Antichrist that we are in horror of, but that he is to honour his own name, and to despise the Name of the Lord? What else doeth he that saith, "It is I that justify "? We answer him, "I came to Christ, not with my feet, but with my heart I came; where I heard the Gospel, there did I believe, there was I baptized; because I believed on Christ, I believed on God." Yet says he, "Thou art not clean." "Why?" "Because I was not there." "Tell me why am not I cleansed, a man who was baptized in Jerusalem, who was baptized, for instance, among the Ephesians, to whom an Epistle you read was written, and whose peace you despise? Lo, to the Ephesians the Apostle wrote; a Church was rounded, and remains even to this day; yea, remains in greater fruitfulness, remains in greater numbers, holds fast that which it received of the Apostle, `If any man preach ought to you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.'26 What now? what dost thou say to me? Am I not clean? There was I baptized, am I not clean?" "No, even thou art not." "Why?" "Because I was not there." "But He who is everywhere was there. He who is everywhere was there, in whose Name I believed. Thou coming I know not whence, yea, rather not coming, but wishing that I should come to thee, fixed in this place, sayest to me, `Thou wast not baptized duly, seeing I was not there.' Consider who was there. What was said to John? `Upon whom thou shall see the Spirit descending like a dove, this is He which baptizeth.'27 Him hast thou seeking for thee; nay, for that thou hast grudged me who was baptized by Him, thou hast lost Him rather."
8. Understand then, my Brethren, our language and theirs, and look which ye would choose. This is what we say; "Be we holy, God knoweth it; be we unrighteous, this again He knoweth better; place not your hope in us, whatsoever we be. If we be good, do as is written, `Be ye imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.'28 But if we be bad, not even thus are ye abandoned, not even thus have ye remained without counsel: give ear to Him, saying, `Do what they say; but do not what they do.'"29 Whereas they on the contrary say, "If we were not good, ye were lost." Lo, here is "another that shall come in his own name." Shall my life then depend on thee, and my salvation be tied up in thee? Have I so forgotten my foundation? Was not Christ the Rock?30 Is it not that he that buildeth upon the rock, neither the wind nor the floods overthrow him?31 Come then, if thou wilt, with me upon the Rock, and do not wish to be to me for the rock.
9. Let the Church then say those last words also, "If ye had believed Moses, ye would believe me also; for he wrote of me;"32 for that I am His body of whom he wrote. And of the Church did Moses write. For I have quoted the words of Moses "In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed."33 Moses wrote this in the first book. If ye believed Moses, ye would also believe Christ. Because ye despise Moses' words, it must needs be that ye despise the words of Christ. "They have" there, saith He, "Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead," him they will hear. "And He said, If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead."34 This was said of the Jews: was it therefore not said of heretics? He had risen from the dead, who said, "It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day." This I believe. I believe it, he says. Dost thou believe? Wherefore believest thou not what follows? In that thou believest, "It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day;" this was spoken of the Head; believe also that which follows concerning the Church, "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached throughout all nations."35 Wherefore dost thou believe as touching the Head, and believest not as touching the Body? What hath the Church done to thee, that thou wouldest so to say behead her? Thou wouldest take away the Church's Head, and believe the Head, leave the Body as it were a lifeless trunk. It is all to no purpose that thou dost caress the Head, like any devoted servant. He that would take off the head, doth his best to kill both the head and the body. They are ashamed to deny Christ, yet are they not ashamed to deny Christ's words. Christ neither we nor ye have seen with our eyes. The Jews saw, and slew Him. We have not seen Him, and believe; His words are with us. Compare yourselves with the Jews: they despised Him hanging upon the Tree, ye despise Him sitting in heaven; at their suggestion Christ's title was set36 up, by your setting37 yourselves up, Christ's Baptism is effaced. But what remains, Brethren, but that we pray even for the proud, that we pray even for the puffed up, who so extol themselves? Let us say to God on their behalf, "Let them know that the Lord is Thy Name; and" not "that" men, but "Thou Only art the Most High over all the earth."38 Let us turn to the Lord, etc.