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NPNF1-06. St. Augustine: Sermon on the Mount; Harmony of the Gospels; Homilies on the Gospels
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Chapter XXIII.

78. Then, as to the statement which follows, “that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven,”231231     “Not in power or wisdom,—which was the cause of man’s fall, and leads evermore to the same,—but in love” (Plumptre). it is to be understood according to that rule in virtue of which John also says, “He gave them power to become the sons of God.”232232     John i. 12. For one is a Son by nature, who knows nothing at all of sin; but we, by receiving power, are made sons, in as far as we perform those things which are commanded us by Him. And hence the apostolic teaching gives the name of adoption to that by which we are called to an eternal inheritance, that we may be joint-heirs with Christ.233233     Rom viii. 17 and Gal. iv. 5. We are therefore made sons by a spiritual regeneration, and we are adopted into the kingdom of God, not as aliens, but as being made and created by Him: so that it is one benefit, His having brought us into being through His omnipotence, when before we were nothing; another, His having adopted us, so that, as being sons, we might enjoy along with Him eternal life for our participation. Therefore He does not say, Do those things, because ye are sons; but, Do those things, that ye may be sons.

79. But when He calls us to this by the Only-begotten Himself, He calls us to His own likeness. For He, as is said in what follows, “maketh234234     Facit(above, jubet). Bengel’s comment is good: “Magnifica appellatio. Ipse et fecit solem et gubernat et habet in sua unius potestate” (“Splendid designation. He made the sun, governs it, and has it in His own power”). His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Whether you are to understand His sun as being not that which is visible to the fleshly eyes, but that wisdom of which it is said, “She is the brightness of the everlasting light;”235235     Wisd. vii. 26. of which it is also said, “The Sun of righteousness has arisen upon me;” and again, “But unto you that fear the name of the Lord shall the Sun of righteousness arise:”236236     Mal. iv. 2. so that you would also understand the rain as being the watering with the doctrine of truth, because Christ hath appeared to the good and the evil, and is preached to the good and the evil. Or whether you choose rather to understand that sun which is set forth before the bodily eyes not only of men, but also of cattle; and that rain by which the fruits are brought forth, which have been given for the refreshment of the body, which I think is the more probable interpretation: so that that spiritual sun does not rise except on the good and holy; for it is this very thing which the wicked bewail in that book which is called the Wisdom of Solomon, “And the sun rose not upon us:”237237     Wisd. v. 6. and that spiritual rain does not water any except the good; for the wicked were meant by the vineyard of which it is said, “I will also command my clouds that they rain no rain upon it.”238238     Isa. v. 6. But whether you understand the one or the other, it takes place by the great goodness of God, which we are commanded to imitate, if we wish to be the children of God. For who is there so ungrateful as not to feel how great the comfort, so far as this life is concerned, which that visible light and the material rain bring? And this comfort we see bestowed in this life alike upon the righteous and upon sinners in common. But He does not say, “who maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good;” but He has added the word “His,” i.e. which He Himself made and established, and for the making of which He took nothing from any one, as it is written in Genesis respecting all the luminaries;239239     Gen. i. 16. and He can properly say that all the things which He has created out of nothing are His own: so that we are hence admonished with how great liberality we ought, according to His precept, to give to our enemies those things which we have not created, but have received from His gifts.

80. But who can either be prepared to bear injuries from the weak, in as far as it is profitable for their salvation; and to choose rather to suffer more injustice from another than to repay what he has suffered; to give to every one that asketh anything from him, either what he asks, if it is in his possession, and if it can rightly be given, or good advice, or to manifest a benevolent disposition, and not to turn away from him who desires to borrow; to love his enemies, to do good to those who hate him, to pray for those who persecute him;—who, I say, does these things, but the man who is fully and perfectly merciful?240240     “Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Greek text has here the future: ἐσεσθε τέλειοι, “Ye therefore shall be perfect” (Revised Version). Meyer gives the verb the imperative sense; Alford, Lange, and others include the imperative sense. The imperative force adds not a little to the plausibility of deriving the doctrine of perfectibility on earth, or complete “sanctification,” from the passage, as the Pelagians (whom Augustin elsewhere combats) and some Methodist commentators (Whedon, etc.). Alford, Trench, etc., deny that the verse gives any countenance to the doctrine. As regards the nature of the perfection, Bengel sententiously says, “in amore, erga omnes” (“in love, toward all.” See Col. iii. 14). It seems “to refer chiefly to the perfection of the divine love” (Mansel); so also Bleek, Meyer. Weiss (whose Leben Jesu, i. 532–534, see) finds an allusion to the fundamental command of the Old Testament, “Be ye holy,” etc. In the place of the divine holiness, or God’s elevation above all uncleanness of the creature, is substituted the divine perfection, whose essence is all-comprehensive and unselfish love; and in the place of the God separated from the sinful people, appears He who in love condescends to them and brings them into likeness with Himself as His children. The last verse of the Sermon as reported by Luke (vi. 36) confirms the idea that the perfection is of love: “Be ye merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful.” Commenting on this verse, Dr. Schaff says, “Instruction in morality cannot rise above this. Having thus led us up to our heavenly Father as the true standard, our Lord, by a natural transition, passes to our religious duties, i.e. duties to our heavenly Father.” And with that counsel misery is avoided, by the assistance of Him who says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”241241     Hos. vi. 6. “Blessed,” therefore, “are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” But now I think it will be more convenient, that at this point the reader, fatigued with so long a volume, should breathe a little, and recruit himself for considering what remains in another book.


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