Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in Uncertain | translated by R. G. Macmullen; Ed. Philip Schaff
1. Give ye ear to that which the Lord hath given me to speak on the lesson of the Gospel. For we have read, that the Lord Jesus acted differently, when one man offered himself to follow Him, and was disallowed; another did not dare this, and was aroused; a third put off, and was blamed. For the words, "Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest," what is so prompt, what so active, what so ready, and what so filly disposed to so great a good, as this "following the Lord whithersoever He should go"? Thou wonderest at this, saying, "How is this, that one so ready found no favour with the Good Master and Lord Jesus Christ, though He was inviting disciples to give them the kingdom of Heaven?" But inasmuch as He was such a Master as could see beforehand things to come, we understand, Brethren, that this man, if he had followed Christ, would have been sure to "seek his own things, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." For He hath said Himself, "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." And of such was this man, nor did he know himself so well as the Physician knew him. For if he saw himself to be a dissembler now, if he had known himself at this time to be full of duplicity and guile, then he did not know with Whom he was speaking. For He it is of whom the Evangelist says, "He had no need that any one should testify to Him of man, for He Himself knew what was in man." What then did He answer?
"Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head." But where hath He not? In thy faith. For in thy heart foxes have holes, thou art full of guile; in thy heart birds of the air have nests; thou art lifted up. Full of guile and self- elation as thou art, thou shalt not follow Me. How can a guileful man follow Simplicity?
2. And then forthwith to another who was silent, and said nothing, and promised nothing, He saith," Follow Me!" As much evil as He saw in the other, so much good saw He in this man. "Follow Me," Thou sayest to one who hath no wish for it. Lo, here is a man quite ready, "I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest; and yet Thou sayest to another who hath no such wish, "Follow thou Me." "The first," saith He, "I decline, because I see in him holes, I see nests." "But then why dost Thou press this other, whom Thou dost challenge to follow Thee, and he makes excuses? Lo, Thou dost even force him, and he doth not come; Thou dost exhort him, and he doth not follow. For what doth he say? 'I will go first to bury my father.'" The faith of his heart showed itself to the Lord; but his dutiful affection made him delay. But the Lord Christ when He is preparing men for the Gospel, will have no excuse from this carnal and temporal affection interfere. It is true that both the law of God prescribes these duties, and the Lord Himself reproves the Jews, because they destroyed this very commandment of God. And the Apostle Paul has in his Epistle laid it down, and said, "This is the first commandment with promise." What? "Honour thy father and thy mother."' God of a surety spake it. This young man then wished to obey God, and to bury his father; but it is place, and time, and circumstance, which is in this case to give way to place, and time, and circumstance. A father must be honoured, but God must be obeyed. He that begat us must be loved, but He that created us must be preferred. "I am calling thee," saith He, "to My Gospel; I have need of thee for another work: this is a greater work than that which thou wishest to be doing. 'Let the dead bury their dead.' Thy father is dead: there are other dead men to bury the dead." Who are the dead who bury the dead? Can a dead man be buried by dead men? How can they lay him out, if they are dead? How can they carry him, if they are dead? How can they bewail him, if they are dead? Yet they do lay him out, and carry, and bewail him, and they are dead; because they are unbelievers. That which is written in the Song of Songs is a lesson to us, when the Church says, "Set in order love in me." What is, "Set in order love in me"? Make the proper degrees, and render to each what is his due. Do not put what should come before, below that which should come after it. Love your parents, but prefer God to them. Mark the mother of the Maccabees," ' My sons, I know not how ye appeared in my womb.' Conceive you I could, give you birth I could; but 'form you I could not:' hear Him therefore, prefer Him to me: trouble not yourselves, that I must remain here without you." Thus she commanded them, and they followed her. What this mother taught her children, did the Lord Jesus Christ teach him to whom He said, "Follow Me."
3. See now how another disciple presented himself, to whom no one said anything: he said, "Lord, I will follow Thee, but I will first go to bid them farewell which are at my house." I suppose this is his meaning, "Let me tell my friends, lest haply they seek me as usual." And the Lord said, "No man putting his hand on the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." The East calls thee, and thou art looking toward the west. In this lesson we learn this, that the Lord chooses whom He will. But He chooses them, as the Apostle says, both according to His Own grace, and according to their righteousness. For such are the words of the Apostle; "Attend," he says, "to what Elias saith: Lord, they have killed Thy Prophets, they have overthrown Thine altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God to him? I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee before Baal." Thou thinkest that thou art the only servant who is working faithfully: there are others too who fear Me, and they not few. For I have "seven thousand" there. And then he added, "Even so then at this present time also." For some Jews believed, though the most were reprobate; like him who carried holes for foxes in his heart. "Even so then," saith he, "at this present time also, there is a remnant saved through the election of grace:" that is, there is the same Christ even now, as then, who also then said to that Elias, "I have reserved to Myself." What is, "I have reserved to Myself"? I have chosen them, because I saw their hearts that they trusted in Me, and not in themselves, nor in Baal. They are not changed, they are as they were made by Me. And thou who art speaking, except thou hadst placed thy trust in Me, where wouldest thou be? Except thou wert replenished by My grace, wouldest not thou too be bowing the knee before Baal? But thou art replenished by My grace; because thou hast not put thy trust at all in thine own strength, but wholly in My grace. Do not therefore glory in this, as to suppose thou hast no fellow-servants in thy service; there are others whom I have chosen, as I have chosen thee, those, namely, who put their trust in Me; as the Apostle says, "Even now also a remnant is saved through the election of grace."
4. Beware, O Christian, beware of pride. For though thou art a follower of the saints, ascribe it always wholly to grace; for that there should be any "remnant" in thee, the grace of God hath brought to pass, not thine own deserts. For the Prophet Isaiah again having this remnant in view, had said already, "Except the Lord of Hosts had left us a seed, we should have become as Sodom, and should have been like unto Gomorrah." "So then," says the Apostle, "at this present time also a remnant is saved through the election of grace. But if by grace," says he, "then is it no more of works" (that is, "be now no more lifted up upon thine own deserts");" otherwise grace is no more grace." For if thou dost build on thine own work; then is a reward rendered unto thee, not grace freely bestowed. But if it be grace, it is gratuitously given. I ask thee then, O sinner, "Dost thou believe in Christ?" Thou sayest, "I do believe." "What dost thou believe? That all thy sins may be forgiven thee freely through Him?" Then hast thou what thou hast believed. O grace gratuitously given! And thou, righteous man, what dost thou believe, that thou canst not keep thy righteousness without God? That thou art righteous then, impute it wholly to His mercy; but that thou art a sinner, ascribe it to thine own iniquity. Be thou thine own accuser, and He will be thy gracious Deliverer. For every crime, wickedness, or sin comes of our own negligence, and all virtue and holiness come of God's gracious goodness. "Let us turn to the Lord."
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.