CONCERNING LAZARUS—- CONCERNING READING THE SCRIPTURES —- THE REASON WHY IT IS NOT SAID, “THOU HADST,” BUT “THOU RECEIVEDST “—-WHY IS IT THAT THE JUST OFTEN FALL INTO TROUBLES, WHILE THE WICKED ESCAPE THEM?
1. The parable about Lazarus has benefited us not a little, both rich and poor, teaching the latter to bear poverty well, and not allowing the former to think highly of their riches; but showing, by the circumstances of the case, that he is of all men to be most pitied who lives in luxury without sharing his wealth with others. Allow me again to take up the same subject; since, also, those who work in mines, wherever they see many grains of gold, there they dig again, and do not cease until they have gathered out all that can be found. Let us, therefore, proceed, and, at the place where we left off yesterday, there again recommence the discourse. It might be possible, indeed, to unfold to you the whole parable in a single day; but we do not strive to be able to depart with the feeling that we have said a great deal, but that you, having received and retained the things spoken, may be able, through this carefulness, to gain a sense of real spiritual benefit. A tender mother about to change the |60 food of her child from milk to more solid diet, if she were at once to give it unmixed wine would injure it, for the child would at once reject the new diet. She feeds it little by little, and thus the new nourishment is received without trouble. In order that you may not feel distaste for the offered food, we do not without preparation pour out to you from the cup of instruction; but distributing the portion over several days, we give an interval of repose from the toil of hearing, that both that which has been said may be firmly fixed in your understanding and in your heart, and that you may receive that which is about to be said with constant and increasing zeal.
Thus I often state several days beforehand the subject about to be considered, in order that, in the intervening time, you may take a book and go through the whole passage; and, noticing what has been stated and what reserved, you may be prepared to hear more intelligently that which is to be said.
This, also, I am ever urging, and shall not cease to urge, that you give attention, not only to the words spoken, but that also, when at home in your house, you exercise yourselves constantly in reading the Divine Scriptures. This, also, I have never ceased to press upon those who come to me privately. Let not any one say to me that these exhortations are vain and irrelevant, for “I am constantly busy in the courts,” (suppose him to say;) “I am discharging public duties; I am engaged in some art or handiwork; I have a wife; I am bringing up my children; I have to manage a household; I am full of worldly business; it is not for me to read the Scriptures, but for those who have bid adieu to the |61 world,1 for those who dwell on the summit of the hills;2 those who constantly lead a secluded life.” What dost thou say, O man? Is it not for thee to attend to the Scriptures, because thou art involved in numerous cares? It is thy duty even more than theirs, for they do not so much need the aid to be derived from the Holy Scriptures as they do who are engaged in much business. For those who lead a solitary life, who are free from business and from the anxiety arising from business, who have pitched their tent in the wilderness, and have no communion with any one, but who meditate at leisure on wisdom, in that peace that springs from repose—-they, like those who lie in the harbour, enjoy abundant security. But ourselves, who, as it were, are tossed in the midst of the sea, cannot avoid many failings, we ever stand in need of the immediate and constant comfort of the Scriptures. They rest far from the strife, and, therefore, escape many wounds; but you stand perpetually in the array of battle, and constantly are liable to be wounded: on this account, you have more need of the healing remedies. For, suppose, a wife provokes, a son causes grief, a slave excites to anger, an enemy plots against us, a friend is envious, a neighbour is insolent, a fellow-soldier causes us to stumble—-or often, perhaps, a judge threatens us, poverty pains us, or loss of property causes us trouble, or |62 prosperity puffs us up, or misfortune overthrows us;—-there are surrounding us on all sides many causes and occasions of anger, many of anxiety, many of dejection or grief, many of vanity or pride; from all quarters, weapons are pointed at us. Therefore it is that there is need continually of the whole armour of the Scriptures. For, “understand,” it says, “that thou passest through the midst of snares, and walkest on the battlements of a city,” (Ecclus. ix. 13.) The lusts of the flesh also more grievously afflict those who are engaged in the midst of business. For a noble appearance and beautiful person gain power over us through the eyes; and wicked words, entering by the cars, trouble our thoughts. Often, also, a well-modulated song softens the constancy of the mind. But why do I say these things’? For that which seems to be weaker than all these, even the odour of sweet scents from the meretricious throng with whom we meet, falling upon the senses, entrances us, and, by this chance accident, we are made captive.
2. Many other such things there are that beset our soul; and we have need of the divine remedies that we may heal wounds inflicted, and ward off those which, though not inflicted, would else be received in time to come—-thus quenching afar off the darts of Satan, and shielding ourselves by the constant reading of the Divine Scriptures. It is not possible—-I say, it is not possible, for any one to be secure without constant supplies of this spiritual instruction.3 Indeed, we may congratulate ourselves,4 if, constantly using this remedy, we ever are able |63 to attain salvation. But when, though each day receiving wounds, we make use of no remedies, what hope can there be of salvation?
Do you not notice that workmen in brass, or goldsmiths, or silversmiths, or those who engage in any art whatsoever, preserve carefully all the instruments of their art; and if hunger come, or poverty afflict them, they prefer to endure anything rather than sell for their maintenance any of the tools which they use. It is frequently the case that many thus choose rather to borrow money to maintain their house and family, than part with the least of the instruments of their art. This they do for the best reasons; for they know that when those are sold, all their skill is rendered of no avail, and the entire groundwork of their gain is gone. If those are left, they may be able, by persevering in the exercise of their skill, in time to pay off their debts; but if they, in the meantime, allow the tools to go to others, there is, for the future, no means by which they can contrive any alleviation of their poverty and hunger. We also ought to judge in the same way. As the instruments of their art are the hammer and anvil and pincers, so the instruments of our work are the apostolic and prophetic books, and all the inspired and profitable Scriptures.5 And as they, by their instruments, shape all the articles they take in hand, so also do we, by our instruments, arm our mind, and strengthen it when relaxed, and renew it when out of condition. Again, artists display their skill in beautiful forms, being unable to change the material of their productions, or to transmute silver into gold, but only to |64 make their figures symmetrical. But it is not so with thee, for thou hast a power beyond theirs—-receiving a vessel of wood, thou canst make it gold. And to this St Paul testifies, speaking thus: “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work,” (2 Tim. ii. 20, 21.) Let us then not neglect the possession of the sacred books, that we receive no fatal injuries. Let us not hoard gold, but lay up, as our treasures, these inspired books. For gold, whenever it becomes abundant, causes trouble to its possessors; but these books, when carefully preserved, afford great benefit to those who possess them. As also where royal arms are stored, though no one should use them, they afford great security to those who dwell there; since neither thieves nor burglars, nor any other evil-doers, dare attack that place. In the same way, where the inspired books are, from thence all satanical influence is banished, and the great consolation of right principles comes to those who live there; yea, even the very sight of these books by itself makes us slower to commit iniquity. Even if we attempt any forbidden thing, and make ourselves unclean, when we return home and see these books, our conscience accuses us more keenly, and we become less likely to fall again into the same sins. Again, if we have been steadfast in our integrity, we gain more benefit, (if we are acquainted with the word;) for as soon as one comes to the gospel, he by a mere look both rectifies his understanding and ceases from all worldly cares. And |65 if careful reading also follows, the soul, as if initiated in sacred mysteries, is thus purified and made better, while holding converse with God through the Scriptures.
“But what,” say they, “if we do not understand the things we read?” Even if you do not understand the contents, your sanctification in a high degree results from it. However, it is impossible that all these things should alike be misunderstood; for it was for this reason that the grace of the Holy Spirit ordained that tax-gatherers, and fishermen, and tent-makers, and shepherds, and goatherds, and uninstructed and illiterate men, should compose these books, that no untaught man should be able to make this pretext; in order that the things delivered should be easily comprehended by all—-in order that the handicraftsman, the domestic, the widow, yea, the most unlearned of all men, should profit and be benefited by the reading. For it is not for vain-glory, as men of the world, but for the salvation of the hearers, that they composed these writings, who, from the beginning, were endued with the gift of the Holy Ghost.
3. For those without—-philosphers, rhetoricians, and annalists, not striving for the common good, but having in view their own renown—-if they said anything useful, even this they involved in their usual obscurity, as in a cloud. But the apostles and prophets always did the very opposite; they, as the common instructors of the world, made all that they delivered plain to all men, in order that every one, even unaided, might be able to learn by the mere reading. Thus also the prophet spake before, when he said, “All shall be taught of God,” (Isa. liv. 13.) “And they shall no more say, every one to his |66 neighbour, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from the least to the greatest,” (Jer. xxxi. 34.) St Paul also says, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the mystery of God,” (1 Cor. ii. 1.) And again, “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Cor. ii. 4.) And again, “We speak wisdom,” it is said, “but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world that come to nought,” (1 Cor. ii. 6.) For to whom is not the gospel plain? Who is it that hears, “Blessed are the meek; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure in heart,” and such things as these, and needs a teacher in order to understand any of the things spoken?
But (it is asked) are the parts containing the signs and wonders and histories also clear and plain to every one? This is a pretence, and an excuse, and a mere cloak of idleness. You do not understand the contents of the book? But how can you ever understand, while you are not even willing to look carefully? Take the book in your hand. Read the whole history; and, retaining in your mind the easy parts, peruse frequently the doubtful and obscure parts; and if you are unable, by frequent reading, to understand what is said, go to some one wiser; betake yourself to a teacher; confer with him about the things said. Show great eagerness to learn: then, when God sees that you are using such diligence, He will not disregard your perseverance and carefulness; but if no human being can teach you that which you seek to know, He himself will reveal the whole. |67
Remember the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia. Being a man of a barbarous nation, occupied with numerous cares, and surrounded on all sides by manifold business, he was unable to understand that which he read. Still, however, as he was seated in the chariot, he was reading. If he showed such diligence on a journey, think how diligent he must have been at home: if while on the road he did not let an opportunity pass without reading, much more must this have been the case when seated in his house; if when he did not fully understand the things he read, he did not cease from reading, much more would he not cease when able to understand. To show that he did not understand the things which he read, hear that which Philip said to him: “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts viii. 30.) Hearing this question he did not show provocation or shame: but confessed his ignorance, and said: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (ver. 31.) Since therefore, while he had no man to guide him, he was thus reading; for this reason, he quickly received an instructor. God knew his willingness, He acknowledged his zeal, and forthwith sent him a teacher.
But, you say, Philip is not present with us now. Still, the Spirit that moved Philip is present with us. Let us not, beloved, neglect our own salvation! “All these things are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come,” (1 Cor. x. 11.) The reading of the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin; ignorance of the Scriptures is a great precipice and a deep gulf; to know nothing of the Scriptures, is a great betrayal of our salvation. This ignorance is the cause of |68 heresies; this it is that leads to dissolute living; this it is that makes all things confused. It is impossible—-I say, it is impossible, that any one should remain unbenefited who engages in persevering and intelligent reading. For see how much one parable has profited us! how much spiritual good it has done us! For many I know well have departed, bearing away abiding profit from the hearing; and if there be some who have not reaped so much benefit, still for that day on which they heard these things, they were rendered in every way better. And it is not a small thing to spend one day in sorrow on account of sin, and in consideration of the higher wisdom, and in affording the soul a little breathing time from wordly cares. If we can effect this at each assembly without intermission, the continued hearing would work for us a great and lasting benefit.
4. Let me then deliver to you the remainder of this parable. What is it that follows? The rich man having said, “Send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,” let us listen to that which Abraham says in reply. “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us from thence,” (Luke xvi. 25, 26.) These words are heavy to bear and cause us grief. I know, indeed, that in proportion to the wounds inflicted by conscience, is the benefit received by the wounded mind. For if it were in the next world that these things were said to us, as |69 they were to this rich man, truly should we have to lament, and mourn, and grieve, since time of repentance would no longer have been left us; but since we hear these things here, where it is possible to become wise, and to purge away our sins, and gain great confidence, and, fearing the evils that have befallen others, to repent,—-let us give thanks to the good God, who, by the punishment of others, stirs up our sluggishness and wakes us from our slumber. For this reason it is that these things are foretold, in order that we may not suffer the same. If God wished to punish us, He would not have foretold these things; but since He does not wish that we should fall into punishment, for this reason He foretells the punishment, that being made wise by the warning, we may escape experience of such things.
But why does Abraham not say, “Thou hadst” (ἔλαβες) “thy good things,” but “thou receivedst” (ἀπέλαβες)? You remember, I dare say, that I said that here a vast and boundless sea of thought is opened before us. For the word (ἀπέλαβες) receivedst suggests and intimates the idea of debt; for any one receives (ἀπολάμβανει) that which is owing to him. If then this rich man was wicked, yea, most wicked, cruel, or inhuman, why is it not said to him,” Thou hadst” (ἔλαβες) “thy good things,” but “thou receivedst” (ἀπέλαβες), as if it implied things deserved by, or owed to him? What then do we learn from this? That some men, even wicked men, even those who have proceeded to the very extremity of wickedness, may often have done one, or two, or three good things. And that this statement is not mere conjecture is plain, from the following case. For what greater |70 wickedness could exist than that of the unjust judge? What could be more inhuman, what more impious? This man neither feared God nor regarded men, (Luke xviii. 2.) Still, though living in such wickedness, he performed one good act, namely, the having pity on the widow who constantly troubled him; the yielding to grace, and granting her request, and proceeding against those who troubled her. Thus also it happens that a man may be intemperate, and at the same time often merciful; or he may be cruel, but also sober; and if he be both intemperate and cruel, still, often in the business of life, he may do some good deed. And similarly we ought to think of the good. For as the most depraved of men often do some useful thing, so also the zealous and honourable often commit sin in some respect. “For who,” it is said, “can boast that he has a clean heart, or who can say that he is free from iniquity?” (Prov. xx. 9.)
Since, therefore, it was likely that the rich man, though he had proceeded to the extreme of iniquity, had done some good work; and that Lazarus, even though he had arrived at the summit of virtue, had committed some sin, mark how the patriarch intimates both these things, when he says, “Thou, in thy lifetime, receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things.” That which he says, implies this: “If thou also hast done good, and reward was owing to thee for that, all this reward thou receivedst in that life when thou didst live in luxury and wealthy enjoying great prosperity and success. This man (Lazarus) also, if he did any wrong, has received all the equivalent in poverty and hunger, being oppressed with the most extreme ills. Each of you has arrived here free—-this |71 man from his sins, and thou from works of righteousness. Therefore, he has unmixed consolation—-thou endurest unmitigated punishment.”
Thus when our righteousness is small and slender, and the burden of our sins great and incalculable, and still we enjoy success here, and suffer no ill, we shall depart hence entirely destitute and devoid of that reward of good actions, having “received all our good things in this life.” Also, when our works of righteousness are great and numerous, and our transgressions few and slight, and we also suffer some kinds of ill, we are purged from the transgressions here, and we receive there an unmixed recompense of our good acts, prepared for us. Whenever, then, you see any one living in wickedness, and suffering no misfortune, do not think him blessed, but mourn for and bewail him, as being about to undergo his woes there, as did also this rich man. Again, when you see any one striving after virtue, and enduring innumerable trials, consider him blessed; envy him as paying the penalty for all his transgressions here, and about to receive the reward of his constancy prepared for him there; as also it happened in the case of Lazarus.
5. Some men are punished here only; others suffer here no ill, but receive the whole punishment hereafter; others are punished both here and hereafter. Which, then, of these three classes do you esteem fortunate? Without doubt, the first; those who are punished and purged from their sins here. But which class is second in order? You, perhaps, may say, those who suffer nothing in this life, but undergo the whole punishment hereafter. I, however, should say not those, but rather they |72 who are punished in both worlds. For he who in this life pays the penalty, will hereafter feel lighter pains; but he who must undergo the whole infliction hereafter, will have an inexorable doom. Thus this rich man, not being cleansed here from any of his indwelling sins, was so severely punished in the next world as not to be able to procure even a drop of water. Also, with respect to those who sin in this world, but suffer no ill, I pity them by far the most who, together with freedom from punishment, also enjoy here luxury and security. For as the freedom from penalty for sin in this world makes their future punishment more severe, so also when sinners enjoy here great repose and luxury and success, this prosperity becomes to them a means and cause of greater punishment and penalty. While in a state of sin, whenever we, in the course of divine providence, receive honours, these very honours may the more surely cast us into the fire. If, for instance, any one should experience only long-suffering without making the right use of it, he will receive heavier punishment. When, besides long-suffering, he enjoys the highest honours, and, notwithstanding, remains in his wickedness, who can save him from punishment? For, to show that they who here experience long-suffering prepare for themselves unmitigated punishment hereafter, if they do not repent, hear what St Paul says: “Thinkest thou, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent |73 heart treasurest up for thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,” (Rom. ii. 3-5.) Whenever, then, thou seest any men abounding in riches, living in luxury, using precious ointments, surfeiting day by day, having power and great honour and splendour, and, at the same time, living in sin, and suffering no ill; for this very reason chiefly it is that we weep and lament for them, that when sinning, they are not punished. Just as when you see any one afflicted with dropsy, or any other disease, or having sores or wounds in all parts of his body; if, in addition to this, he indulges in drinking and eating, and thus aggravates his malady, you not only do not admire him, nor think him happy on account of his luxury, but, for this very reason, you think him wretched. In the same way, also, we should judge concerning the affairs of the soul. Whenever you see a man living in wickedness, and enjoying great prosperity, and suffering no calamity, on this account lament for him the more, because, being under the power of disease and grievous corruption, he increases his own weakness, becoming worse by luxury and indolence. For punishment is not in itself an evil, but the real evil is sin. The latter separates us from God; the former leads us to God, and mitigates His wrath. How is this shown? Hear the prophet saying, “O priests, comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and say that she has received of the Lord’s hand double for her sins,” (Isa. xl. 1,2, LXX.) And again: “O Lord our God, give us peace, for thou hast repaid all to us,” (Isa. xxvi. 12, LXX.) And in order that you may understand that some are punished here, others hereafter, hear what St Paul |74 saith, reproving those who partake of the mysteries unworthily. For having said, “He who eateth this bread, and drinketh this cup unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord,” (1 Cor. xi. 27,) he immediately adds, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged; but now we are judged of the Lord and chastened, in order that we should not be condemned with the world,” (1 Cor. xi. 30-32.) Do you see how the punishment inflicted here frees from the punishment hereafter? Also with respect to him who had committed fornication, it is said, “Deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. v. 5.) Also from the case of Lazarus this is clear, that if he had committed any ill, having been purged from it here, he departed hence clean. And the same appears from the case of the paralytic man, who, having lived in weakness thirty and eight years, was freed from sin by the length of his affliction. And that it was sin for which he was thus afflicted, hear what Christ said, “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee,” (John v. 14.) That some are punished here and purified from sin, is therefore shown by these instances.
6. And. that some men, when they do not receive punishment here equivalent to the magnitude of their offences, are punished both here and hereafter, hear what Christ saith concerning the Sodomites. For having said, “Whosoever will not receive you, shake off the dust from your feet,” (Luke ix. 5; x. 11,) He proceeds to say, “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in |75 the day of judgment than for that city,” (Luke x. 12.) The expression more tolerable shows this, that they will be punished indeed, but more lightly, since also here they paid the penalty. And that there are some who, in this world suffer no ill, but in the next world endure the full punishment, the case of this rich man teaches us, who there underwent such unmitigated punishment, as not even to enjoy the consolation of a drop of water; for the whole infliction was to be meted out to him there. As therefore, of those who commit sin, they who suffer no ill here, undergo greater punishment hereafter; thus also, of those who live righteously, they who suffer many ills here, enjoy greater honour there. And if there be two sinners, the one punished here, the other not punished; the one who is punished is more fortunate than the one unpunished. Again, if there be two righteous men, of whom one endures more, and the other fewer trials; he that endures the most is the most fortunate, since to each will be rendered according to his work.
What then? Is it not possible, they say, to enjoy ease both here and hereafter? This, O man, is unattainable; it is one of the things impossible. It cannot, it cannot be, that he who here enjoys ease and plenty, and continually indulges in every luxury—-who lives a vain and aimless life—-can also enjoy honour hereafter. At the same time, if he be not troubled by poverty, he still is troubled by desire, and from this cause suffers restraint—-a cause which gives rise to no small amount of trouble, Again, if disease do not afflict him, yet evil passion burns within, and it is no slight pain that springs from wrath; also, if trials be not laid upon him, yet wicked thoughts |76 constantly arise to vex him. It is by no means a trivial matter to restrain lawless desire, to put a stop to vainglorious thoughts, to check insensate pride, to refrain from excess, to live in self-denial. And he who does not accomplish these things, and such as these, can never attain salvation. For that they who live luxuriously are not saved, hear what St Paul says concerning widows, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth,” (1 Tim. v. 6.) And if this is said concerning a widow, much more is it true concerning a man. Again, that it is not possible for one living a dissipated life to reach heaven, even Christ has made quite plain, when He declares, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,” (Matt. vii. 4.) How is it then that it is said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”? (Matt. xi. 30.) For if the way be narrow and confined, how can it again be called light and easy? We answer: The former is true, because of the very nature of trial; the latter, because of the determination of him who endures trial. For it is possible that that which is by nature unendurable, may become light, when we bear it willingly. As, therefore, the apostles, being beaten, returned rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of the Lord, though the nature of such trial always causes tribulation and pain, still the previous determination of those who received the stripes, even overcame the nature of things. With respect to this same thing, St Paul says, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” (2 Tim. iii. 12.) So that if man do not persecute, the devil fights against us, and we have need of much |77 philosophy and great perseverance, in order that, with the aid of prayer, we may be sober and watchful,—-that we may not covet the possessions of others,—-that we may be willing to distribute of our substance to those who are in need,—-that we may bid farewell to all self-indulgence, both with respect to dress and with respect to food,—-that we may avoid covetousness,—-that we may flee drunkenness, and evil-speaking,—-that we may have the tongue in subjection,—-that we may not utter any unbecoming word, (for “let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you,” Eph. iv. 31,)—-that we may not speak base or deceitful words. There is no small labour requisite to exhibit perfect observance of all these things. And in order that you may learn how great a thing it is to live wisely, and that it is a work which admits no repose, hear what St Paul saith, “I keep under my body, and bring it unto subjection,” (1 Cor. ix. 27.) By these words he intimates the force and great effort which it is needful to put forth in order to render the body obedient in all things. Christ also said to His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” (John xvii. 33.) This very tribulation, it is said, procures for you rest. The present life is an arena, and he that is to be crowned can have no rest while in the arena, and engaged in contest. Thus also, if any one be desirous to be crowned, he must adopt a hard and laborious mode of life, in order that having toiled here for a short period, he may hereafter enjoy perpetual repose.
7. How many troubles arise each day! How great must that soul be that is not annoyed—-that is not |78 vexed, but gives thanks and praise,—-that adores Him who ordains that these trials should be endured! How many unexpected things there are,—-how many difficulties! And we must restrain evil thoughts, and not suffer the tongue to speak any improper word, as did the blessed Job, who praised God while he endured a multitude of ills.
There are some who, if they meet with any reverse, or are slandered by any one, or if they fall into any bodily malady, any pain in the foot or head, or any other disease, immediately blaspheme. In this way they endure the affliction, but are deprived of the benefit. What doest thou, O man, blaspheming against thy benefactor and Saviour! Dost thou not perceive that thou art on the brink of a precipice, and art casting thyself into an abyss of utter destruction? Nor dost thou, by blaspheming, make thy suffering lighter; but thou dost increase it, and makest thy pain more severe. It is with this intent that the tempter brings against thee a multitude of ills,—-that he may lead thee into that abyss; and if he see thee blaspheming, how easily does he increase the anguish and make it greater, that, being afflicted, thou mayest rebel again. But if he see thee bearing it nobly, and in proportion to the increase of the suffering, the more giving thanks to God, he at once desists; since for the future he would attack thee fruitlessly and in vain. Thus also the tempter, as a dog waiting at table, if he see the man who is eating, continually throwing to him some morsel or other from the dishes on the table he waits patiently; but if, having waited once or twice, he should go away without anything, he desists for the future, because he has waited fruitlessly and in vain. Thus also |79 does the evil one constantly attend us with open mouth; and if you should throw to him, as to a dog, a wicked word, snatching it up, he again prepares himself for more; but if you continue thankful, you as it were starve him, and quickly drive him away and make him flee. But, you say, you are not able to be silent when goaded by. pain. Nor do I hinder you from speaking: but instead of blasphemy, give utterance to praise—-instead of discontent, to thankfulness.
Make confession to your Master; cry aloud in prayer: thus your suffering will be alleviated, the tempter will be put to flight by thanksgiving, and the aid of God will be brought nigh. Besides, if you blaspheme, you avert the help of God, and cause the tempter to be more powerful against you, and you involve yourself the more in pains; but if you give thanks, you repel the assaults of the evil spirit, and gain for yourself the care of a gracious God.
But, it is said, the tongue often by force of habit lapses into the utterance of some evil word. Whenever, then, you are failing, before the word can gain utterance, close your teeth against it firmly. Better for the tongue to shed a drop of blood now, than that hereafter craving a drop of water it should be unable to gain that comfort: better to endure pain in season, than to undergo ceaseless punishment hereafter. For the tongue of the rich man, when consumed with heat, found no relief.
God has enjoined that you should love your enemies: do you turn away from the God who loves you? He has commanded that you should bless them that despitefully use you, that you should speak well of those that slander you: |80 do you, when in no respect injured, speak evil of your benefactor and patron? Was He not able, you say, to free you from this temptation? Yes, but He permitted it that you might be the more approved. “But, alas!” you say, “I fall! I perish!” Then this is not because of the temptation, but because of your slothfulness. For, tell me, which is the easier, blasphemy or praise? Does not the former cause those who hear it to be your enemies and opponents, and cause yourself to feel dejection, and produce afterward great pain? Does not the latter gain for you the manifold reward of wisdom, and the admiration of all, and procure great reward from God? Why, then, leaving that which is useful, and easy, and agreeable, do you instead follow that which is injurious, and painful, and corrupting? Beside this, if the pressure of trial and poverty caused you to utter blasphemy, it would follow that those who live in poverty would always be blasphemers. But in fact, those who live in poverty—-many of them in extreme poverty—-are constantly thankful; while others who enjoy wealth and luxury are constantly blasphemers. Thus, it is not the nature of the things, but rather our own state of mind, that causes the one line of conduct or the other.
For this reason, therefore, let us read this parable, in order that we may learn that neither does wealth benefit the slothful man, nor does poverty in any way injure the upright. Yea, what do I say?—-poverty!—-rather not all the ills that afflict mankind, should they together assail him, can ever overthrow the soul of the godly and wise man, or persuade him to forsake virtue; and of this, Lazarus is an example. So also wealth can never benefit |81 the idle and dissolute man, nor can health, nor continual prosperity, nor any other thing.
8. Let us, therefore, not say that sickness, or poverty, or the presence of danger, obliges us to blaspheme. It is not poverty, but folly,—-not sickness, but arrogance,—-not the presence of danger, but the absence of piety,—-that leads the negligent to blasphemy and every other evil habit.
But for what reason, it is said, are some punished here, and others there, and not all here? For what reason?—-because if it were so, we all should perish; for all of us are worthy of punishment. Again, if no one were punished here, the mass of mankind would become more negligent; many would deny the existence of a Providence. For if men say such things even now, when we see many of the wicked enduring punishment, what would they say if this were not so? What bounds would there be to evil? For this reason God punishes some men here, and some He does not punish. He punishes some, removing their wickedness, and making their punishment in the next world lighter, or completely renewing them, and making those who live in wickedness wiser by the punishment of others. Again, some He does not punish, in order that if they should take heed to themselves,—-if being touched by the manifestation of God’s long-suffering they should repent—-that then they may escape both punishment here and the penalty hereafter; but if they should remain hardened and not profit by the forbearance of God, that then they may endure greater inflictions hereafter because of this their exceeding neglect. And if any of those who know these things should say that they who are thus punished are wronged, (being unable to repent,) we might |82 reply thus:—-that if God had foreseen that they would repent, He would not have punished them. For if He passes over those whom He knows to be incorrigible, much more would He tolerate in the present life those whom He knows to be benefited by His long-suffering, in order that they may profit by the opportunity of repentance. Since He now deals with them beforehand, He causes their future punishment to be lighter, and by these His dealings,—-by the punishment of these, He makes other men more prudent and wise. But wherefore does He not act thus towards all sinners alike? It is in order that by fear arising from the punishment of others, they may be confirmed in wisdom; and giving glory to God, on account of His long-suffering, and feeling shame on account of His clemency, they may depart from iniquity. But, it is said, they do not act so? Notwithstanding after this, God is not the cause of their woe, but their own negligence, since they are careless about using these remedies to ensure their own salvation. And that you may be assured that God acts thus for this reason, mark this:—-Pilate on one occasion mingled the blood of some Galileans with the sacrifices, Certain men having hastened to tell this to Christ, He said, “Suppose ye that only these Galileans were sinners? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,” (Luke xiii. 2, 3.) Again, on another occasion, eighteen men were buried under a fallen tower, and concerning them He said the same. The words, “Think ye that they only were sinners? I say unto you, Nay,” teach us that those who escaped alive were worthy of the same fate. The words, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish,” teach us |83 that it was allotted to those men to suffer, in order that those who remained alive, made afraid by the calamities happening to others, might repent and become heirs of the kingdom. “What then?” say they; “is another punished that I may become better?” Not so; but another is punished for his own individual iniquity; and this event also becomes a cause of salvation to those who pay heed to it, making them more zealous because of the very fear arising from those calamities. In this same way masters act; when they chastise one slave, they cause the rest to be more careful through fear. Thus, whenever you see any shipwrecked, or buried under a fallen house, or ruined by fire, or drowned in a river, or losing life in any other violent way,—-when you also see others who have committed the same things, or even worse, suffering none of these things, do not say in your perplexity, “Why then is it that those who have sinned alike do not suffer the same ills?” but think thus, “One man was permitted to be destroyed or drowned, that his future punishment should be more tolerable to him, or even to make him quite pure;” while another was ordained to suffer no such calamity, in order that being taught by another’s punishment he might become more submissive; but should he still remain unchanged, that he, by his own negligence might heap up for himself unmitigated penalties; still of this unendurable punishment God is not the cause.
Again, when you see a just man afflicted, or suffering all the afore-mentioned woes, do not stumble at it; for even to himself the woes are the cause of a brighter reward.
In a word, with respect to all punishment, if it be |84 inflicted on sinners, it lessens the burden of sin; if on the just, it makes the soul more glorious;—-and the greatest gain accrues to each of us from affliction, if only we bear it thankfully. For this is the design of punishment.
9. For this reason the history contained in the sacred Scriptures is filled with innumerable examples of this kind. Both just men and unjust are shown to us suffering ills, in order that, whether a man be just or whether he be a sinner, having these examples, he may bear ills well. And wicked men are shown to us not only suffering ills, but also prospering; so that you may not be troubled at their prosperity, since you learn from that which befell this rich man that the tormenting fire awaits them if they repent not. And the Scripture tells us that it is not possible to enjoy repose both here and hereafter; it cannot be.
Therefore it is that just men in this world live a laborious life. But “what,” say they, “do you say with respect to Abraham?” Yet who suffered so many ills as he? Was he not obliged to leave his fatherland? Was he not separated from all his relatives? Did he not suffer want in a strange land? Did he not, like a pilgrim, continually change his abode—-from Babylon to Mesopotamia, from thence to Palestine, from thence again to Egypt? How can one relate his trouble about his wife, the deadly strife with the barbarians, the carrying captive of the household of his kinsman, the many other troubles like these? And when at length he had the son, did he not suffer the hardest trial of all, being commanded to slay his cherished and beloved one with his own hand? |85 And what shall we say of Isaac, the sacrifice? Was he not vexed perpetually by his neighbours, deprived of his wife, (as his father had been,) and for so long a time bereaved of his child? What, again, shall we say concerning Jacob, who was brought up in his father’s house? Did he not endure greater ills than his grandfather? And not to make the discourse too long by going through all these things, hear what he himself says concerning his whole life: “Few and evil have been my days, and I have not attained to the days of my fathers,” (Gen. xlvii. 9.) Although he saw his son sitting on a royal throne and possessed of such glory, he did not forget the ills of the past; he had been so afflicted that even in such prosperity he could not be unmindful of the misfortunes that had befallen him. What shall we say about David? How many tragical events happened to him? Did he not also exclaim like Jacob: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength but labour and sorrow”? (Ps. xc. 10.) What with respect to Jeremiah? Did he not, because of overwhelming evils, curse the day of his birth? What shall we say of Moses? Did he not in despair exclaim, “Kill me, if thou thus deal with me”? (Numb. xi. 15.) Elijah also, that heavenly soul—-he that shut heaven 6 —-did he not, after working so many wonders, lament before God thus: “Take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers “? (1 Kings xix. 4.) And what need is there to go through each instance? St Paul, taking them [the just] all together, |86 proceeds to speak of them thus: “They wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy,” (Heb. xi. 37, 38.) And, in a word, it is ever necessary that he who would please God and become approved and holy should not lead an easy, free, and dissolute life, but a laborious life, full of hardship and toil. For “no man,” it is said, “is crowned except he strive lawfully,” (2 Tim. ii. 5;) and in another place, “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things,” (1 Cor. ix. 25.) He abstains from evil words and looks, from base conversation and slander, and from blasphemy and evil speaking. Prom this we learn that, though trial may not come upon us from any external source, it is our duty to exercise ourselves each day in fasting, self-denial, moderate diet, and a plain table, avoiding extravagance in any way. Otherwise we cannot please God. Let not any one repeat the foolish saying, that such and such a one has both the good things of this world and also of the next. It is impossible in the case of rich and luxurious sinners that the saying can be true; but if it be right to say it at all, it should be said of those who are afflicted,—-of those who are in distress,—-that they have the good of this world and also of the next. For they have good things in the next world as their reward; good things also they have here, being sustained by the hope of the future, and not feeling acutely present ills, because of the anticipation of future good.
But let us hear the following words of the parable: “Besides all this, between us and you there is a great |87 gulf fixed.” Well, therefore, spake David, “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him,” (Ps. xlix. 7.) No one can redeem even a brother, or a father, or a son. For mark, Abraham addressed the rich man as son; yet had he no power to perform the part of a father. The rich man addressed Abraham as father; * but the paternal aid which a son commonly receives he was unable to gain;—-in order that you may learn that neither relationship, nor friendship, nor kind feeling, nor any other existing thing, can procure release for him who is delivered to destruction by his own evil life.
10. I have said these things because it frequently happens that many, when we urge them to take heed to themselves and practise self-denial, are indolent, and turn the warning into ridicule. They say, “Do thou befriend me at that day, and then I shall be confident and have no fear.” Another says, “I have a father who was a martyr;” and another, “I have a friend who is a bishop.” Others bring forward their whole household. But all these excuses are idle words; for the goodness of others will not help us then. Remember “that the wise virgins did not bestow any oil on the other five virgins; but they themselves went in to the bridal feast, while the others were shut out! It is a great blessing to found our hopes of safety on our own condition; for there no friend will ever stand in our stead. If even here it is said to Jeremiah, “Pray not thou for this people,” (Jer. vii. 16,) while it was still possible for them to repent, much more will the difficulty be increased hereafter. |88
What dost thou say?—-that thou hadst a father who was a martyr? This very thing will then add to thy condemnation; since having had an example of goodness in thy own household, thou didst prove thyself an unworthy child of a righteous father. But thou hast a friend who is noble and admirable? Neither will he profit thee then. Why then is it said, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations”? (Luke xvi. 9.) It is not the friendship that will then avail thee, but the charity. For if the friendship alone could avail, it would be necessary to say only, “Make to yourself friends;” but now, showing that not friendship alone avails, it is added, “of the mammon of unrighteousness.” As if perhaps some one might say, “I am able to make friends without the mammon, and much more zealous ones than those made by means of it. But that you may know that it is charity that avails us,—–that it is our work and righteous act,—-he persuades us to confide, not simply in the friendship of the saints, but in the friendship caused by the right use of mammon. Knowing all these things, beloved, let us give heed to ourselves with all diligence; when we are afflicted, let us give thanks; when we live in prosperity, let us be on our guard, becoming wise by the misfortunes of others; let us, by repentance and compunction and continual confession, offer praise; and if in any way we transgress in this present life, putting away the sin, and with the utmost zeal cleansing away every stain from our soul, let us beseech God to make us all fit when we die, thus to depart |89 that we may not be with the rich man, but that, enjoying with Lazarus a place in the patriarch’s bosom, we may be filled with undying blessedness; which may it be the lot of us all to attain, through the grace and kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be praise for ever and ever. Amen. Source.