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NPNF1-07. St. Augustine: Homilies on the Gospel of John; Homilies on the First Epistle of John; Soliloquies
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Tractate LXXII.

on the same passage.

1. It is no easy matter to comprehend what is meant by, or in what sense we are to receive, these words of the Lord, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also:” and then, to this great difficulty in the way of our understanding, He has added another still more difficult, “And greater things than these shall he do.” What are we to make of it? We have not found one who did such works as Christ did; and are we likely to find one who will do even greater? But we remarked in our last discourse, that it was a greater deed to heal the sick by the passing of their shadow, as was done by the disciples, than as the Lord Himself did by the touch of the hem of His garment; and that more believed on the apostles than on the Lord Himself, when preaching with His own lips; so that we might suppose works like these to be understood as greater: not that the disciple was to be greater than his Master, or the servant than his Lord, or the adopted son than the Only-begotten, or man than God, but that by them He Himself would condescend to do these greater works, while telling them in another passage, “Without me ye can do nothing.”12951295     Chap. xv. 5. While He Himself, on the other hand, to say nothing of His other works, which are numberless, made them without any aid from themselves, and without them made this world; and because He Himself thought meet to become man, without them He made also Himself. But what have they [made or done] without Him, save sin? And last of all, He straightway also withdrew from the subject all that could cause us agitation; for after saying, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do;” He immediately went on to add, “Because I go unto the Father; and whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.” He who had said, “He will do,” afterwards said, “I will do;” as if He had said, Let not this appear to you impossible; for he that believeth on me can never become greater than I am, but it is I who shall then be doing greater things than now; greater things by him that believeth on me, than by myself apart from him; yet it is I myself apart from him,12961296     That is, here, “without any self-originating aid of his,” as if he had any independent and meritorious share in the work. Augustin plays on the prepositions, per (eum), and præter (eum).—Tr. and I myself by him [that will do the works]: and as it is apart from him, it is not he that will do them; and as, on the other hand, it is by him, although not by his own self, it is he also that will do them. And besides, to do greater things by one than apart from one, is not a sign of deficiency, but of condescension. For what can servants render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards them?12971297     Ps. cxvi. 12. And sometimes He hath condescended to number this also amongst His other benefits towards them, namely, to do greater works by them than apart from them. Did not that rich man go away sad from His presence, when seeking counsel about eternal life? He heard, and cast it away: and yet in after days the counsel that fell on his ears was followed, not by one, but by many, when the good Master was speaking by the disciples; He was an object of contempt to the rich man, when warned by Himself directly, and of love to those whom by means of poor men He transformed from rich into poor. Here, then, you see, He did greater works when preached by believers, than when speaking Himself to hearers.

2. But there is still something to excite thought in His doing such greater works by the apostles; for He said not, as if merely with reference to them, The works that I do shall ye do also; and greater works than these shall ye do: but wishing to be understood as speaking of all that belonged to His family, said, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.” If, then, he that believeth shall do such works, he that shall do them not is certainly no believer: just as “He that loveth me, keepeth my commandments,”12981298     Chap. xiv. 21. implies, of course, that he who keepeth them not, loveth not. In another place, also, He says, “He that heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who buildeth his house upon a rock;”12991299     Matt. vii. 24. and he, therefore, who is unlike this wise man, without doubt either heareth these sayings and doeth them not, or faileth even to hear them. “He that believeth in me,” He says, “though he die, yet shall he live;”13001300     Chap. xi. 25. and he, therefore, that shall not live, is certainly no believer now. In a similar way, also, it is said here, “He that believeth in me shall do [such works]:” he is, therefore, no believer who shall not do so. What have we here, then, brethren? Is it that one is not to be reckoned among believers in Christ, who shall not do greater works than Christ? It were hard, unreasonable, intolerable, to suppose so; that is, unless it be rightly understood. Let us listen, then, to the apostle, when he says, “To him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”13011301     Rom. iv. 5. This is the work in which we may be doing the works of Christ, for even our very believing in Christ is the work of Christ. It is this He worketh in us, not certainly without us. Hear now, then, and understand, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also:” I do them first, and he shall do them afterwards; for I do such works that he may do them also. And what are the works, but the making of a righteous man out of an ungodly one?

3. “And greater works than these shall he do.” Than what, pray? Shall we say that one is doing greater works than all that Christ did who is working out his own salvation with fear and trembling?13021302     Phil. ii. 12. A work which Christ is certainly working in him, but not without him; and one which I might, without hesitation, call greater than the heavens and the earth, and all in both within the compass of our vision. For both heaven and earth shall pass away,13031303     Matt. xxiv. 35. but the salvation and justi fication of those predestinated thereto, that is, of those whom He foreknoweth, shall continue forever. In the former there is only the working of God, but in the latter there is also His image. But there are also in the heavens, thrones, governments, principalities, powers, archangels, and angels, which are all of them the work of Christ; and is it, then, greater works also than these that he doeth, who, with Christ working in him, is a co-worker in his own eternal salvation and justification? I dare not call for any hurried decision on such a point: let him who can, understand, and let him who can, judge whether it is a greater work to create righteous beings than to make righteous the ungodly. For at least, if there is equal power employed in both, there is greater mercy in the latter. For “this is the great mystery of godliness which was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”13041304     1 Tim. iii. 16. On account of the well-known textual controversy among Biblicists, this passage, as quoted by Augustin, is so far valuable, as it shows us how he read and understood the point in dispute, namely, whether it is “God was manifested” (as in our English version), or, “Who [which] was manifested,” as here by Augustin; in other words, whether the original text read Θεός or ὅς before ἐφανερώθη. The evidence is almost equally divided between the two; and the difficulty is chiefly caused by the circumstance, that in the earliest mss., the Uncial, ΘΕΟΣ (God) is usually written in a contracted form, consisting of the first and last letters, ΘΣ, which differs from the pronoun ὅς (who), written ΟΣ, merely by the little line inside the Θ, and another line over the contraction; both of which may have been unintentionally omitted at the time of copying, or purposely inserted at an after date. To us now, the question is of less importance, as, if the true reading be ὅς (who), its antecedent can only be Χριστός (Christ). [The R.V., in accordance with the oldest mss. and the best critical edition, reads: “He who (ὅς) was manifested”—Tr.] But when He said, “Greater works than these shall he do,” there is no necessity requiring us to suppose that all of Christ’s works are to be understood. For He spake, perhaps, only of these He was now doing; and the work He was doing at that time was uttering the words of faith, and of such works specially had He spoken just before when He said, “The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of myself: but the Father, that dwelleth in me, He doeth the works.” His words, accordingly, were His works. And it is assuredly something less to preach the words of righteousness, which He did apart from us, than to justify the ungodly, which He does in such a way in us that we also are doing it ourselves. It remains for us to inquire how the words are to be understood, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, I will do it.” Because of the many things His believing ones ask, and receive not, there is no small question claiming our attention; but as this discourse must now be concluded, we must allow at least a little delay for its consideration and discussion.


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