Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in Uncertain | translated by R. G. Macmullen; Ed. Philip Schaff
1. IT is wont to perplex many persons, Dearly beloved, that our Lord Jesus Christ in His Evangelical Sermon, after He had first said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven;" said afterwards, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them." For so the mind of him who is weak in understanding is disturbed, is desirous to obey both precepts, and distracted by diverse, and contradictory commandments. For a man can as little obey but one master, if he give contradictory orders, as he can serve two masters, which the Saviour Himself hath testified in the same Sermon to be impossible. What then must the mind that is in this hesitation do, when it thinks that it cannot, and yet is afraid not to obey? For if he set his good works in the light to be seen of men, that he may fulfil the command, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven;" he will think himself involved in guilt because he has done contrary to the other precept which says, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them." And again, if fearing and avoiding this, he conceal his good works, he will think that he is not obeying Him who commands, saying, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works."
2. But he who is of a right understanding, fulfils both, and will obey in both the Universal Lord of all, who would not condemn the slothful servant, if he commanded those things which could by no means be done. For give ear to "Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God," both doing and teaching both duties. See how his "light shineth before men, that they may see his good works. We commend ourselves," saith he, "to every man's conscience in the sight of God." And again, "For we provide things honest, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men." And again, "Please all men in all things, even as I please all men in all things." See, on the other hand, how he takes heed, that he "do not his righteousness before men to be seen of them. Let every man," saith he, "prove his own work, and then shall he have glorying in himself, and not in another." And again, "For our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience." And that, than which nothing is plainer, "If," saith he, "I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ." But lest any of those who are perplexed about the precepts of our Lord Himself as contradictory, should much more raise a question against His Apostle and say, How sayest thou, "Please all men in all things, even as I also please all men in all things:" and yet also sayest, "If I yet pleased men; I should not be the servant of Christ"? May the Lord Himself be with us, who spake also in His servant and Apostle, and open to us His will, and give us the means of obeying it.
3. The very words of the Gospel carry with them their own explanation; nor do they shut the mouths of those who hunger, seeing they feed the hearts of them that knock. The intention of a man's heart, its direction and its aim, is what is to be regarded. For if he who wishes his good works to be seen of men, sets before men his own glory and advantage, and seeks for this in the sight of men, he does not fulfil either of those precepts which the Lord has given as touching this matter; because He has at once looked to "doing his righteousness before men to be seen of them;" and his light has not so shined before men that they should see his good works, and glorify His Father which is in heaven. It was himself he wished to be glorified, not God; he sought his own advantage, and loved not the Lord's will. Of such the Apostle says, "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. Accordingly, the sentence was not finished at the words, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works;" but there was immediately subjoined why this was to be done; "that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven;" that when a man who does good works is seen of men, he may have only the intention of the good work in his own conscience, but may have no intention of being known, save for the praise of God, for their advantage- sake to whom he is thus made known; for to them this advantage comes, that God who has given this power to man begins to be well-pleasing to them; and so they do not despair, but that the same power might be vouchsafed to themselves also if they would. And so He did not conclude the other precept, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men," otherwise than in the words, "to be seen of them;" nor did He add in this case, "that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven," but rather, "otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." For by this He shows us, that they who are such, as He will not have His faithful ones to be, seek a reward in this very thing, that they are seen of men—that it is in this they place their good—in this that they delight the vanity of their heart—in this is their emptiness, and inflation, their swelling, and wasting away. For why was it not sufficient to say, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men," but that he added, "that ye may be seen of them," except because there are some who do their "righteousness before men;" not that they may be seen of them, but that the works themselves may be seen; and the Father which is in heaven, who hath vouchsafed to endow with these gifts the ungodly whom He had justified, may be glorified?
4. They who are such, neither do they account their righteousness as their own, but His, by the faith of whom they live (whence also the Apostle says, "That I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith;" and in another place, "That we may be the righteousness of God in Him." Whence also he finds fault with the Jews in these words, "Being ignorant of God's righteousness, and wishing to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God". Whosoever then wish their good works to be so seen of men, that He may be glorified from whom they have received those things which are seen in them, and that thereby those very persons who see them, may through the dutifulness of faith be provoked to imitate the good, their light shines truly before men, because there beams forth from them the light of charity; theirs is no mere empty fume of pride; and in the very act they take precautions, that they do not their righteousness before men to be seen of them, in that they do not reckon that righteousness as their own, nor do they therefore do it that they may be seen; but that He may be made known, who is praised in them that are justified, that so He may bring to pass in him that praises that which is praised in others, that is, that He may make him that praises to be himself the object of praise. Observe the Apostle too, how that when he had said, "Please all men in all things, as I also please all men in all things;" he did not stop there, as if he had placed in that, namely, the pleasing men, the end of his intention; for else he would have said falsely, "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ;" but he subjoined immediately why it was that he pleased men; "Not seeking," saith he, "mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." So he at once did not please men for his own profit, lest he should not be "the servant of Christ;" and he did please men for their salvation's sake, that he might be a faithful Minister of Christ; because for him his own conscience in the sight of God was enough, and from him there shined forth in the sight of men something which they might imitate.
Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF I/VI, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.