From Faith and Life, here again is an excerpt from Augustine of Hippo about love, or “charity” as the Authorized Version renders it:
What greater cause is there for our Lord’s Coming, than that God might show in us His love, commending it powerfully, in that “while we were yet enemies Christ died for us?” And this He did to the end that, since “the end of the commandment and the fulfilling of the law is love,” we should also love one another, and “as He laid down His life for us, we also should lay down our lives for the brethren;” and as to God Himself, since “He first loved us,” and ” spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” if once we found it irksome to love Him, at any rate now we should not find it irksome to return His love. For there is no more powerful way of inviting love, than to be the first to love; and that soul is sadly hard which not only refused to bestow affection, but even refuses to repay it. What else do we guard against in that which gives a shock to friendship, than that our friend should think either that we do not love him, or that we do not love him as much as he loves us? And it is worth observing, with how great a love an inferior is kindled when he is conscious of being loved by a superior. For there is love more welcome, where it is not parched with the dryness of want, but streams forth in abundance of bounty. In the former case, love comes from misery; in the latter, from mercy. If then this was the main cause of Christ’s coming, that man might know how much God loves him, and know it to this end, that he might be kindled with affection for Him who loved him first, and might love his neighbour at the bidding and teaching of Him, who became man’s neighbour by loving him when he was no neighbour, but one sojourning far away; and if all Divine Scripture previously written was written to announce beforehand the Lord’s Coming; and if whatever was afterwards committed to writing, and stamped with Divine authority, tells of Christ and admonishes us to love; it is plain that on those two commandments of love to God and to one’s neighbour hang not only all the Law and the Prophets, which as yet, when our Lord thus spake, were the only Holy Scripture extant, but also whatever portions of the Divine Writings have since then been written for our salvation and committed to our memory. Wherefore in the Old Testament is a veiling of the New, in the New an unveiling of the Old’. Take then this love as your proposed object, to which you are to refer all that you say; and whatever you narrate, so narrate it that the person to whom you speak may by hearing believe, by believing hope, by hoping love. And at the close of your discourse, you must earnestly warn him not to place his hope in man; because neither is it easy for man to judge as to what man is just; and if it were, the reason why the examples of just men are set before us is not that we may be justified by them, but that by imitating them we may understand that we ourselves are justified by their Justifier. For the result of this will be—a result especially to be commended—that when he who is hearing us, or rather is hearing God by means of us, has begun to improve in conduct and knowledge, and to enter heartily on the way of Christ, he will not venture to attribute this either to us or to himself, but will love both himself, and us, and all others whom he loves as friends, in Him and for Him who loved him when an enemy, that by justifying him He might make him a friend.
–St. Augustine, on Catechizing the Simple.
We love Him because He first loved us, and because of this, we can love others.
I wanted to mention that there is a free e-book for The Book of Common Prayer and The Scottish Liturgy, now available in Kindle format. I have it on my Kindle and have found it quite helpful. This particular edition was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers – which may explain why the charts and tables in the BCP don’t come across all that well. If one is not familiar with the BCP, I would urge him or her to consider a paid version for that reason only. But otherwise this is not a badly done edition and I truly appreciate the work of the people who have made it available. (The Scottish liturgy is definitely worth a look.)
From Dean Phillip Jensen of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, here is the thirteenth video in a series on the Book of Ephesians. This one is titled “From Christ to Us” and here he draws from Ephesians 4:11-16.
From the Rev. William Klock of Living Word REC in British Columbia, here is another excellent sermon on the Gospel of Luke, titled With Power and Authority. In this message, based on Luke 4:31-44, Fr. Bill talks about who Jesus was, and what his ministry was – and then he goes on to speak to us about our role in this:
Now, what about us? We’ve all experienced Jesus’ authority in our lives to overcome our sin problem. In our baptism we’ve been washed clean, had his Spirit poured into us, and been grafted into him—into the life-giving vine, and brought back into fellowship God. We are his kingdom people. But how often are we like the people of Capernaum? Are we keeping Jesus and his kingdom to ourselves? A lot of Christians seem to look at Jesus only in terms of what he can do for them. Do we see him as our own personal miracle worker? A sort of heavenly Santa Claus or a divine vending machine? Are we only serving him in the hopes of getting something in return? Brothers and sisters, if that’s what the Christian life amounts to for us, we haven’t understood grace.
Maybe we do understand grace. Maybe we do understand that God’s grace is a gift given to sinners, to his enemies, and that it can’t be earned. Maybe we do follow and serve him out of love and gratitude for his grace. But we still often keep that grace to ourselves. For far too many Christians, the grace we’ve been given manifests itself as little more than private piety—reading our Bibles, praying, going to church, avoiding sin—all while we wait in hope of our Lord returning one day to rescue us from this evil world so that we can go to live with him. Brothers and sisters, that’s not our calling either.
Jesus understood that his mission was to establish his kingdom here on earth. He did that not only by preaching good news to the poor—to all those oppressed by sin and death—he came and did battle with sin and death so that he could call us into that kingdom Now he calls us to do the work of the kingdom at his side. He’s filled us with his Spirit and he’s gifted us with the gifts of grace so that we can carry on the battle. This has been our calling as human beings from the start. Adam was born into a garden that represented God’s temple and the mission he was given was to be fruitful, to multiply, and to have dominion over God’s creation—he was to spread the influence of God’s temple over the whole earth. He failed. Then in Abraham, God called Israel to carry on that mission. At the centre of Israel was the temple—the light—and their mission was to carry that light and the influence of God’s temple to the gentile nations. But Israel failed too. And yet, brothers and sisters, Jesus came to fulfil that mission given to Adam and given to Israel. And Jesus succeeded in his mission. He has established his kingdom here in his Church. But friends, he didn’t establish his kingdom so that we can sit around being good and holy while we wait for escape to heaven. We, his Church, are the beachhead of the kingdom. He’s given us his light and now calls us to spread it to the nations in anticipation of that day when he will return in final victory to cast sin and death into the lake of fire. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray: “on earth as it is in heaven”. That’s a prayer of anticipation, brothers and sisters. It’s a prayer that looks forward to that day when the kingdom, now in the Father’s safe-keeping in heaven, will be brought by Jesus to earth, to finally establish his temple as Adam was originally called to establish it throughout the earth.
As Christians we must seek to succeed in our ministry of evangelism – spreading the Gospel at home and abroad. Jesus has succeeded in His ministry and mission; let us succeed in ours, with the help of God. (You can hear this message by Fr. Bill here.)
Again quoting John Chrysostom from Faith and Life, here is an excerpt on the Parable of the Sower:
Whence was it, tell me, that the greater part of the seed was lost? Not on account of the Sower, but of the soil which received it, that is, of the soul which did not hear. This happened not only to the seed, but to the draw-net, which also brought in much that was unprofitable. Now He utters this parable by way of training and instructing His disciples not to despair, although those that perish should be the majority of those that receive their word. For this befell the Master also; and He, while He thoroughly foresaw that it would happen, desisted not from sowing. But how, it will be asked, was it reasonable to sow on thorns, on the rock, on the way-side? A husbandman would be rightly blamed for doing so; for it is impossible that the rock should become soil, or the way-side and thorns be other than they are; but in the case of reasonable beings this is not so, for it is possible for the rock to be changed and become rich soil, and the way-side to be no longer trodden down nor left open to all passers-by, but to be a fruitful field, and the thorns to disappear, and the seed to enjoy full security. For had this not been possible, He would not have sown thus. But if this change did not take place in all cases, this was not by reason of the Sower, but of those who did not wish to be changed. For He has done His part; and if they cast away what came from Him, that is no fault of His who exhibited such great benignity.
–St. Chrysostom, Hom. xliv. on St. Matthew.
Certainly, let us not despair if we do not see an immediate harvest, for it is indeed possible that the Spirit will reap a harvest using our labors later – for He is able to make rich soil out of the stoniest of hearts.
From Faith and Life, here again is an excerpt from the writings of John Chrysostom on the life of St. Paul:
PAUL had a strength far greater than that of words, and able to accomplish far more. By his mere presence, without speaking, he was terrible to demons; and all the men of this age, if assembled in one place, could not do so much by infinite prayers and tears as Paul’s aprons did of old. And Paul by prayer raised the dead, and wrought other like wonders, so that he was even deemed a god by the Heathen; and before his removal from this life he was thought worthy to be caught up to the third heaven, and to hear words which it was not lawful for humanity to utter. If, laying aside his miracles, we come to his blessed life, and examine his angelical conduct, then in this rather than in wondrous deeds will you see Christ’s athlete triumphing. For why should one speak of his zeal, his forbearance, his ceaseless dangers, his continued anxieties, his uninterrupted sorrows for the Churches, his sympathy with the weak, his many afflictions, his everfresh persecutions, his daily deaths? For he endured every form of hostile plotting, and gained every kind of victory ; and never once did he cease to wrestle or to win crowns. And in what did this blessed one surpass even the other Apostles, and how comes his name to be frequent in men’s mouths throughout the civilized world? Is it not from the excellence of his Epistles, whereby he benefits, and will benefit, not only the faithful of that age, but those who have lived from his time to this day, and those too who are yet to live, even until Christ’s coming? For even like a wall of adamant, his letters fortify the Churches throughout the world; and like a noble prince of combatants he stands even now in the midst of us, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God’.” And all this he does by those Epistles, so wonderful, so filled with Divine wisdom, which he has left to us. But his writings are not only useful to us in order to the overthrow of spurious doctrines and the establishment of genuine ones; they also furnish us with no small aid towards a good life. For by the employment of them, even at this day, the rulers of the Churches fashion, and mould, and bring to spiritual beauty, the “chaste virgin” whom he prepared for Christ. By these they repel the diseases which assail her, and preserve the health which she has gained.
–St. Chrysostom on the Priesthood, b. iv.
Let John Chrysostom be our role model in appreciating and learning from the writings of St. Paul!
Again from Faith and Life’s selections for Septuagesima, here is an excerpt from Augustine of Hippo on the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20).
We may apply the parable to this life of ours. For they are, as it were, called at the first hour, who, when fresh from their mother’s womb, begin to be Christians; those, as it were, at the third hour, who begin as boys; those, as it were, at the sixth, who begin as young men; those, as it were, at the ninth, who begin when verging towards old age; those, as it were, at the eleventh, who begin when actually in the decay of life; but all, with the prospect of receiving the one denarius of life eternal. But attend and understand, my brethren; let no one delay to come to the vineyard, on the ground that he is confident of receiving the denarius whenever he does come. He has reason to be confident that the denarius is promised to him; but he is not told to delay. Did those who were hired for the vineyard, when the householder went out to them to hire those whom he found at the third hour, say to him, “Wait, we are not going thither until the sixth?” Do thou come when thou art called. For to all an equal pay is promised; but as to the actual hour of working there is great uncertainty. If young men, when called, were to say, “Wait, for we have heard in the Gospel that all will receive one reward; when we are old, we will come at the eleventh hour; as we shall receive just as much, why should we work so much more!” the answer would be, “Do not you choose to work, you who know not whether you will live to the seventh hour? You are called at the sixth hour; come. The householder has indeed promised you a denarius if you come even at the eleventh hour; but no one has promised that you shall live even to the seventh. Why then do you put off Him who calls you, when you are certain of the pay, uncertain of a day? Take heed lest, when He will give you the pay by promise, you rob yourself of it by putting off.”
–St. Augustine, Sermon lxxxvii.
Indeed, we should come to the Lord when the Holy Spirit prompts us – else we may not come at all.
This is an excerpt for Septuagesima from the book Faith and Life, which I have quoted previously; I mention it again because it is so relevant to our life today. It features John Chrysostom on the dangers of reprobation, where he is quoting the Epistle for Septuagesima – 1 Corinthians 9:24ff – and addresses the fact that the Apostle Paul himself thought about this:
IF one so great as Paul, who traversed the whole world as it were on wings, and became superior to corporeal needs, and was thought worthy to hear those “unspeakable words” which no other man has heard up to this day, could write, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway;” if, I say, he, who was deemed worthy of so much grace, after so many and such eminent good works needed to keep under and subjugate the unruliness of the body, and subject it to the authority of the soul, and to the excellence thereof (for a man keeps under what rises up against him, and brings into subjection what is restive), what must we say, who are devoid of all virtues, who are burdened with a load of sins, and, in addition, exhibit a great degree of indolence? For does this war admit of any truce? has it any fixed time for joining battle? We must be always wakeful and on the look-out, and never deem ourselves secure; for there is no set time for the onset of him who is at war with us and is ready to attack us. Let us therefore be always thoughtful, always anxious about our salvation; that so we too ourselves may be able to remain unconquered, and, having escaped the devices framed by the enemy, be counted worthy of the loving-kindness coming from God, through the grace and compassions of His Only-begotten Son.
–St. Chrysostom,Homily xa. on Genesis.
Let us never forget that the Christian life is a fight.