Early Church Fathers
Hebrews x. 32-34.-"But call to remembrance the former days, in which after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;1 partly, whilst ye were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions,2 and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion on those who were in bonds,3 and took joyfully the spoiling of yourr goods, knowing that ye have for yourselves4 in heaven a better and an enduring substance."
[1.] The best Physicians after they have made a deep incision, and have increased the pains by the wound, soothing the afflicted part, and giving rest and refreshment to the disturbed soul, proceed not to make a second incision, but rather soothe that which has been made with gentle remedies, and such as are suited to remove the violence of the pain. This Paul also did after he had shaken their souls, and pierced them with the recollection of Hell, and convinced then, that he must certainly perish, who does despite to the grace of God, and after he had shown from the laws of Moses, that they also shall perish, and the more [fearfully], and confirm it by other testimonies, and had said, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God" (c. x. 31): then, lest the soul desponding through excessive fear, should be swallowed up with grief, he soothes them by commendations and exhortation, and gives them zeal derived from their own conduct. For, he says, "call to remembrance the former days, in which after ye had been enlightened, ye endured a great fight of afflictions." Powerful is the exhortation from deeds [already done]: for he who begins a work ought to go forward and add to it. As if he had said, when ye were brought in5 [to the Church], when ye were in the rank of learners, ye displayed so great readiness, so great nobleness; but now it is no longer so. And he who encourages, does thus especially encourage them from their own example.
And he did not simply say, "ye endured a fight"6 but a "great" [fight]. Moreover he did not say "temptations" but "fight," which is an expression of commendation and of very great praise.
Then he also enumerates them particularly, amplifying his discourse, and multiplying his praise. How? "Partly" (he says) "whilst ye were made a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions"; for reproach is a great thing, andcalculated to pervert the soul, and to darken the judgment. For hear what the prophet says:7 "While they daily say unto me, Where is thy God?" (Ps. xlii. 10.) And again, "If the enemy had reproached me, I would have borne it." (Ps. Iv. 12.) For since the human race is exceedingly vainglorious, therefore it is easily overcome by this.
And he did not simply say "by reproaches," but that even with great intensity, being "made a gazing-stock."8 For when a person is reproached alone, it is indeed painful, but far more so when in presence of all. For tell me how great the evil was when men who had left the meanness of Judaism, and gone over, as it were, to the best course of life, and despised the customs of their fathers, were ill treated by their own people, and had no help.
[2.] I cannot say (he says) that ye suffered these things indeed and were grieved, but ye even rejoiced exceedingly. And this he expressed by saying, "Whilst ye became companions of them that were so used," and he brings forward the Apostles themselves. Not only (he means) were ye not ashamed of your own sufferings, but ye even shared with others who were suffering the same things. This too is the language of one who is encouraging them. He said not, `Bear my afflictions, share with me,' but respect your own.
"Ye had compassion on them that were in bonds."9 Thou seest that he is speaking concerning himself and the rest who were in prison. Thus ye did not account "bonds" to be bonds: but as noble wrestlers so stood ye: for not only ye needed no consolation in your own [distresses], but even became a consolation to others.
And "ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods." O! what "full assurance of faith"! (c. x. 22.) Then he also sets forth the motive, not only consoling them for their struggles, but also that they might not be shaken from the Faith. When ye saw your property plundered (he means) ye endured; for already ye saw Him who is invisible, as visible: which was the effect of genuine faith, and ye showed it forth by your deeds themselves.
Well then, the plundering was perhaps from the force of the plunderers, and no man could prevent it; so that as yet it is not clear, that ye endured the plundering for the faith's sake. (Although this too is clear. For it was in your power if you chose, not to be plundered, by not believing.) But ye did what is far greater than this; the enduring such things even "with joy"; which was altogether apostolical, and worthy of those noble souls, who rejoiced when scourged. For, it says, "they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name."10 (Acts v. 41.) But he that endures "with joy," shows that he has some reward, and that the affair is no loss but a gain.
Moreover the expression "ye took"11 shows their willing endurance, because, he means, ye chose and accepted.
"Knowing" (he says) "that ye have for yourselves in heaven a better and an enduring substance"; instead of saying, firm, not perishing like this.
[3.] In the next place, having praised them, he says, (ver. 35) "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward." What meanest thou? He did not say, `ye have cast it away, and recover it': but, which tended more to strengthen them, "ye have it," he says. For to recover again that which has been cast away, requires more labor: but not to lose that which is held fast does not. But to the Galatians he says the very opposite: "My children of whom I travail in birth again, till Christ be formed in you" (Gal. iv. 19); and with reason; for they were more supine, whence they needed a sharper word; but these were more faint-hearted, so that they rather needed what was more soothing.
"Cast not away therefore" (he says) "your confidence," so that they were in great confidence towards God. "Which hath" (he says) "great recompense of reward." "And when shall we receive them (some one might say)? Behold! All things on our part have been done." Therefore he anticipated them on their own supposition, saying in effect, If ye know that ye have in heaven a better substance, seek nothing here.
"For ye have need of patience," not of any addition [to your labors], that ye may continue in the same state, that ye may not cast away what has been put into your hands. Ye need nothing else, but so to stand as ye have stood, that when ye come to the end, ye may receive the promise.
(Ver. 36) "For" (he says) "ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Ye have need of one thing only, to bear with the delay; not that ye should fight again. Ye are at the very crown (he means); ye have borne all the combats of bonds, of afflictions; your goods have been spoiled. What then? Henceforward ye are standing to be crowned: endure this only, the delay of the crown. O the greatness of the consolation! It is as if one should speak to an athlete who had overthrown all, and had no antagonist, and then was to be crowned, and yet endured not that time, during which the president of the games comes, and places the crown [upon him]; and he impatient, should wish to go out, and escape as though he could not bear the thirst and the heat.
He then also hinting this, what does he say? (Ver. 37) "Yet a little while and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." For lest they should say, And when will He come? He comforts them from the Scriptures. For thus also when he says in another place, "Now is our salvation nearer" (Rom. xiii. 11), he comforts them because the remaining time is short. And this he says not of himself but from the Scriptures.12 But if from that time it was said, "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry," it is plain that now He is nearer. Wherefore also waiting is no small reward.
(Ver. 38) "Now the just" (he says) "shall live by faith, but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him." This is a great encouragement when one shows that they have succeeded in the whole matter and are losing it through a little indolence. (Ver. 39) "But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."
[4.] (c. xi. 1, xi. 2) "Now faith is the substance13 of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report." O what an expression has he used, in saying, "an evidence of things not seen." For [we say] there is "evidence," in the case of things that are very plain.14 Faith then is the seeing things not plain (he means), and brings what are not seen to the same full assurance with what are seen. So then neither is it possible to disbelieve in things which are seen, nor, on the other hand can there be faith unless a man be more fully assured with respect to things invisible, than he is with respect to things that are most clearly seen. For since the objects of hope seem to be unsubstantial, Faith gives them substantiality,15 or rather, does not give it, but is itself their substance.16 For instance, the Resurrection has not come, nor does it exist substantially, but hope makes it substantial in our soul. This is [the meaning of] "the substance of things."
If therefore it is an "evidence of things not seen," why forsooth do you wish to see them, so as to fall away from faith, and from being just?17 Since "the just shall live by faith," whereas ye, if ye wish to see these things, are no longer faithful. Ye have labored (he says), ye have struggled: I too allow this, nevertheless, wait for this is Faith: do not seek the whole "here."
[5.] These things were indeed said to the Hebrews, but they are a general exhortation also to many of those who are here assembled. How and in what way? To the faint-hearted; to the mean-spirited. For when they see the wicked prospering, and themselves faring ill, they are troubled, they bear it impatiently: while they long for the chastisement, and the inflicting vengeance on others; while they wait for the rewards of their own sufferings. "For yet a little time, and He that shah come will come."
Let us then say this to the slothful: Doubtless there will be punishment; doubtless He will come, henceforth the events of the18 Resurrection are even at the doors.
Whence [does] that [appear] (you say)? I do not say, from the prophets; for neither do I now speak to Christians only; but even if a heathen be here, I am perfectly confident, and bring forward my proofs, and will instruct him. How (you say)?
Christ foretold many things. If those former things did not come to pass, then do not believe them; but if they all came to pass, why doubt concerning those that remain? And indeed, it were very unreasonable,19 nothing having come to pass, to believe the one, or when all has come to pass, to disbelieve the others.
But I will make the matter more plain by anexample. Christ said, that Jerusalem should be taken, and should be so taken as no city ever was before, and that it should never be raised up: and in fact this prediction came to pass. He said, that there should be "great tribulation" (Matt. xxiv. 21), and it came to pass. He said that a grain of mustard seed is sown, so should the preaching [of the Gospel] be extended: and every day we see this running over theworld. He said, that they who left father or mother, or brethren, or sisters, should have both fathers and mothers; And this we see fulfilled by facts. He said, "in the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John xvi. 33), that is, no man shall get the better of you. And this we see by the events has come to pass. He said that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church" (Matt. xvi. 18), even though persecuted, and that no one shall quench the preaching [of the Gospel]: and the experience of events bears witness to this prediction also: and yet when He said these things, it was very hard to believe Him. Why? Because all these were words, and He had not as yet given proof of the things spoken. So that they have now become far more credible. He said that "when the Gospel should have been preached among all the nations, then the end shall come" (Matt. xxiv. 14); lo! now ye have arrived at the end: for the greater part of the world hath been preached to, therefore the end is now at hand. Let us tremble, beloved.
[6.] But what, tell me? Art thou anxious about the end? It indeed is itself near, but each man's life and death is nearer.20 For it is said, "the days of our years are seventy years; but if [one be] in strength, fourscore years." (Ps. xc. 10; [LXX. lxxxix. 10].) The day of judgment is near. Let us fear. "A brother doth not redeem; shall man redeem?" (Ps. xlix. 7; [LXX. xlviii. 8].) There we shall repent much, "but in death no man shall praise Him." (Ps. vi. 5; [LXX. 6].) Wherefore he saith, "Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving" (Ps. xcv. 2; [LXX. Ps. xciv.]), that is, his coming. For here [in this life] indeed, whatever we do has efficacy; but there, no longer. Tell me, if a man placed us for a little while in a flaming furnace, should we not submit to anything in order to escape, even were it necessary to part with our money, nay to undergo slavery? How many have fallen into grievous diseases, and would gladly give up all, to be delivered from them, if the choice were offered them? If in this world then, a disease of short duration so afflicts us, what shall we do yonder, when repentance will be of no avail?
[7.] Of how many evils are we now full, without being conscious of them? We bite one another, we devour one another, in wronging, accusing, calumniating, being vexed by the credit of our neighbors. (Cf. Gal. v. 15.)And see the difficulty? When a man wishes to undermine the reputation of a neighbor, he says, `Such an one said this of him; O God, forgive me, do not examine me strictly, I must give account of what I have heard.'21 Why then dost thou speak of it at all, if thou dost not believe it? Why dost thou speak of it? Why dost thou make it credible by much reporting? Why dost thou pass on the story which is not true? Thou dost not believe it, and thou entreatest God not to call thee to strict account? Do not say it then, but keep silence, and free thyself from all fear.
But I know not from whence this disease has fallen upon men. We have become tattlers, nothing remains22 in our mind. Hear the exhortation of a wise man who says, "Hast thou heard a word? Let it die in23 thee, be bold; it will not burst thee." (Ecclus. xix. 10.) And again, "A fool heareth a word, and travaileth, as a women in labor of a child." (Ecclus. xix. 11.) We are ready to make accusations, prepared for condemning. Even if no other evil thing had been done by us, this were sufficient to ruin us, and to carry us away to Hell, this involves us in ten thousand evils. And that thou mayest know this certainly, hear what the prophet says, "Thou satest and spakest against thy brother." (Ps. l. 20.)
But it is not I, you say, but the other [who told me]. Nay rather, it is thyself; for if thou hadst not spoken, another would not have heard: or even if he should hear it, yet thou wouldest not have been to blame for the sin. We ought to shade over and conceal the failings of neighbors, but thou paradest them under a cloak of zeal for goodness. Thou becomest, not an accuser, but a gossip, a trifler, a fool. O what cleverness! Without being aware of it, thou bringest disgrace upon thyself as well as on him.
And see what great evils which arise from this. Thou provokest the wrath of God. Dost thou not hear Paul saying about widows, "they not only" (these are his words) "learn to be idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, wandering about from house to house, and speaking things which they ought not." (1 Tim. v. 13.) So that even when thou believest the things which are said against thy brother, thou oughtest not even in that case to speak of them; much less, when thou dost not believe them.
But thou [forsooth] lookest to thine own interest? Thou fearest to be called to account by God? Fear then, lest even for thy tattling thou be called to account. For here, thou canst not say, `O God, call me not to account for light talking': for the whole matter is light talking. Why didst thou publish it? Why didst thou increase the evil? This is sufficient to destroy us. On this account Christ said,"Judge not, that ye be not judged." (Matt. vii. 1.)
But we pay no regard to this, neither are we brought to our senses by what happened to the Pharisee. He said what was true, "I am not as this Publican" (Luke xviii. 11), he said it too in no man's hearing; yet was he condemned. If he were condemned when he said what was true, and uttered it in no man's hearing, what fearful [punishment] shall not they suffer, who like gossiping women, carry about everywhere lies which they do not even themselves believe? What shall they not endure?
[8.] Henceforward let us set "a door and a bolt before the mouth." (Ecclus. xxviii. 25.) For innumerable evils have arisen from tattling; families have been ruined, friendships torn asunder, innumerable other miseries have happened. Busy not thyself, O man, about the affairs of thy neighbor.
But thou art talkative and hast a weakness. Talk of thine own [faults] to God: thus the weakness will be no longer a weakness, but an advantage. Talk of thy own [faults] to thy friends, those who are thorough friends and righteous men, and in whom thou hast confidence, that so they may pray for thy sins. If thou speak of the [sins] of others, thou art nowise profited, neither hast thou gained anything, but hast ruined thyself. If thou confessest thy own [sins] to the Lord, thou hast great reward: for one says, "I said, I will confess against myself mine iniquity to the Lord, and Thou forgavest the impiety of my heart." (Ps. xxxii. 5.)
Dost thou wish to judge? Judge thine own [sins]. No one will accuse24 thee, if thou condemn thyself: but he will accuse if thou do not condemn; he will accuse thee, unless thou convict thyself; will accuse thee of insensibility. Thou hast seen such an one angry, irritated, doing something else out of place? Think at once, even thou on thy own [faults]: and thus thou wilt not greatly condemn him, and wilt free thyself from the load of thy past transgressions. If we thus regulate our own conduct, if we thus manage our own life, if we condemn ourselves, we shall probably not commit many sins, and we shall do many good things, being fair and moderate; and shall enjoy all the promises to them that love God: to which may all attain, by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world with end. Amen.