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“For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.”
[1.] Having boldly reflected on the faults of the Hebrews, and sufficiently alarmed them, he consoles them, first, by praises, and secondly (which also is the stronger ground), by the [thought] that they would certainly attain the object of their hope. Moreover he draws his consolation, not from things future, but again from the past, which indeed would the rather persuade them. For as in the case of punishment, he alarms them rather by those [viz. things future], so also in the case of the prizes [set before them], he encourages them by these [viz. by things past], showing [herein] God’s way of dealing. And that is, not to bring in what has been promised immediately, but after a long time. And this He does, both to present the greatest proof of His power, and also to lead us to Faith, that they who are living in tribulation without having received the promises, or the rewards, may not faint under their troubles.
And omitting all [the rest], though he had many whom he might have mentioned, he brought forward Abraham both on account of the dignity of his person, and because this had occurred in a special way in his case.
And yet at the end of the Epistle he says, that “all these, having seen the promises afar off, and having embraced them, received them not, that they without us should not be made perfect.” ( c. xi. 13.) “For when God made promise to Abraham” (he says) “because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” ( c. xi. 39, 40.) How then does he say at the end [of the Epistle] that “he received not the promises,” and here, that “after he had patiently endured he obtained the promise”? How did he not receive? How did he obtain? He is not speaking of the same things in this place and in the other, but makes the consolation twofold. God made promises to Abraham, and after a long space of time He gave the things [spoken of] in this place, but those others not yet.
“And so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” Seest thou that the promise alone did not effect the whole, but the patient waiting as well? Here he alarms them, showing that oftentimes a promise is thwarted through faintheartedness.2911
[2.] “For men verily swear by the greater, and an Oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. But God because He could swear by no greater, sware by Himself.” Well, who then is He that sware unto Abraham? Is it not the Son ? No, one says. Certainly indeed it was He: however, I shall not dispute [thereon]. So when He [the Son] sweareth the same oath, “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” is it not plain that it was because He could not swear by any greater? For as the Father sware, so also the Son sweareth by Himself, saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” He here reminds them also of the oaths of Christ, which He was constantly uttering. “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, he that believeth on Me shall never die.” ( John xi. 26.)
God, however, ought to have been believed even without an oath: ( ver. 17 ) “wherein” (he says) “God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it [lit. “mediated”2912
Ver. 18. “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible that God should lie.” What are these two? The speaking and promising; and the adding an oath to the promise. For since among men that which is [confirmed] by an oath is thought more worthy of credit, on this account He added that also.
Seest thou that He regardeth not His own dignity, but how He may persuade men, and endures to have unworthy things said concerning Himself. That is He wishes to impart full assurance. And in the case of Abraham indeed [the Apostle] shows that the whole was of God, not of his patient endurance, since He was even willing to add an oath, for He by whom men swear, by Him also God “sware,” that is “by Himself.” They indeed as by one greater, but He not as by one greater. And yet He did it. For it is not the same thing for man to swear by himself, as for God. For man has no power over himself. Thou seest then that this is said not more for Abraham than for ourselves: “that we” (he says) “might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” Here too again,2913
What is “the hope set before us”? From these [past events] (he says) we conjecture the future. For if these came to pass after so long a time, so certainly the others will. So that the things which happened in regard to Abraham give us confidence also concerning the things to come.
[3.] ( Ver. 19, 20 ) “Which [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil: whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made High Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.” He shows, that while we are still in the world, and not yet departed from [this] life, we are already among the promises. For through hope we are already in heaven. He said, “Wait; for it shall surely be.” Afterwards giving them full assurance, he says, “nay rather by hope.”2915
And see how very suitable an image he has discovered: For he said not, Foundation; which was not suitable; but, “Anchor.” For that which is on the tossing sea, and seems not to be very firmly fixed, stands on the water as upon land, and is shaken and yet is not shaken. For in regard to those who are very firm, and philosophic, Christ with good reason made that statement, saying, “Whosoever hath built his house on a rock.” ( Matt. vii. 24 .) But in respect of those who are giving way, and who ought to be carried through by hope, Paul hath suitably set down this. For the surge and the great storm toss the boat; but hope suffers it not to be carried hither and thither, although winds innumerable agitate it: so that, unless we had this [hope] we should long ago have been sunk. Nor is it only in things spiritual, but also in the affairs of this life, that one may find the power of hope great. Whatever it may be, in merchandise, in husbandry, in a military expedition, unless one sets this before him, he would not even touch the work. But he said not simply “Anchor,” but “sure and steadfast” [i.e.] not shaken. “Which entereth into that within the veil”; instead of ‘which reacheth through even to heaven.’
[4.] Then after this he led on to Faith also, that there might not only be hope, but a very true [hope]. For after the oath he lays down another thing too, even proof by facts, because “the forerunner is for us entered in, even Jesus.” But a forerunner is a forerunner of some one, as John was of Christ.
Now he did not simply say, “He is entered in,” but “where He is entered in a forerunner for us,” as though we also ought to attain. For there is no great interval between the forerunner and those who follow: otherwise he would not be a forerunner; for the forerunner and those who follow ought to be in the same road, and to arrive after [each other].
“Being made an High Priest forever after the order,” he says, “of Melchisedec.” Here is also another consolation, if our High Priest is on high, and far better than those among the Jews, not in the kind [of Priesthood] only, but also in the place, and the tabernacle, and the covenant, and the person. And this also is spoken according to the flesh.
[5.] Those then, whose High Priest He is, ought to be greatly superior. And as great as the difference is between Aaron and Christ, so great should it be between us and the Jews. For see, we have our victim2916
These sacrifices one may see in the Old [Testament] also, shadowed out beforehand. “Offer to God,” it is said, “a sacrifice of righteousness” ( Ps. iv. 5 ); “Offer a sacrifice of praise” ( Ps. l. 14 ); and, “a sacrifice of praise shall glorify Me” ( Ps. l. 23 ), and, “the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit” ( Ps. li. 17 ); and “what doth the Lord require of thee but” to hearken to Him? ( Mic. vi. 8.) “Burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure in: then I said, Lo I come to do Thy will, O God!” ( Ps. xl. 6, 7 ), and again, “To what purpose do ye bring the incense from Sheba?” ( Jer. vi. 20.) “Take thou away from Me the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.” ( Amos v. 23.) But instead of these “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” ( Hosea vi. 6.) Thou seest with what kind of “sacrifices God is well pleased.” ( c. xiii. 16.) Thou seest also that already from the first the one class have given place, and these have come in their stead.
These therefore let us bring, for the other indeed are [the offerings] of wealth and of persons who have [possessions], but these of virtue: those from without, these from within: those any chance person even might perform; these only a few. And as much as a man is superior to a sheep, so much is this sacrifice superior to that; for here thou offerest thy soul as a victim.
[6.] And other sacrifices also there are, which are indeed whole burnt-offerings, the bodies of the martyrs: there both soul and body [are offered]. These have a great savor of a sweet smell. Thou also art able, if thou wilt, to bring such a sacrifice.
For what, if thou dost not burn thy body in the fire? Yet in a different fire thou canst; for instance, in that of voluntary poverty, in that of affliction. For to have it in one’s power to spend one’s days in luxury and expense, and yet to take up a life of toil and bitterness, and to mortify the body, is not this a whole burnt-offering? Mortify thy body, and crucify it, and thou shalt thyself also receive the crown of this martyrdom. For what in the other case the sword accomplishes, that in this case let a willing mind effect. Let not the love of wealth burn, or possess you, but let this unreasonable appetite itself be consumed and quenched by the fire of the Spirit; let it be cut in pieces by the sword of the Spirit.
This is an excellent sacrifice, needing no priest but him who brings it. This is an excellent sacrifice, performed indeed below but forthwith taken up on high. Do we not wonder that of old time fire came down and consumed all? It is possible now also that fire may come down far more wonderful than that, and consume all the presented offerings:2918
[7.] Such were the offerings of Cornelius. For (it is said) “thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.” ( Acts x. 4.) Thou seest a most excellent union. Then are we heard, when we ourselves also hear the poor who come to us. “He” (it is said) “that stoppeth his ears that he may not hear the poor” ( Prov. xxi. 13 ), his prayer God will not hearken to. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor and needy: the Lord will deliver him in the evil day.” ( Ps. xl. 1.) But what day is evil except that one which is evil to sinners?
What is meant by “he that considereth”? He that understandeth what it is to be a poor man, that has thoroughly learned his affliction. For he that has learned his affliction, will certainly and immediately have compassion on him. When thou seest a poor man, do not hurry by, but immediately reflect what thou wouldest have been, hadst thou been he. What wouldest thou not have wished that all should do for thee? “He that considereth” (he says). Reflect that he is a free-man like thyself, and shares the same noble birth with thee, and possesses all things in common with thee; and yet oftentimes he is not on a level even with thy dogs. On the contrary, while they are satiated, he oftentimes lies, sleeps, hungry, and the free-man is become less honorable than thy slaves.
But they perform needful services for thee. What are these? Do they serve thee well? Suppose then I show that this [poor man] too performs needful services for thee far greater than they do. For he will stand by thee in the Day of judgment, and will deliver thee from the fire. What do all thy slaves do like this? When Tabitha died, who raised her up? The slaves who stood around or the poor? But thou art not even willing to put the free-man on an equality with thy slaves. The frost is hard, and the poor man is cast out in rags, well-nigh dead, with his teeth chattering, both by his looks and his air fitted to move thee: and thou passeth by, warm and full of drink; and how dost thou expect that God should deliver thee when in misfortune?
And oftentimes thou sayest this too: ‘If it had been myself, and I had found one that had done many wrong things, I would have forgiven him; and does not God forgive?’ Say not this. Him that has done thee no wrong, whom thou art able to deliver, him thou neglectest. How shall He forgive thee, who art sinning against Him? Is not this deserving of hell?
And how amazing! Oftentimes thou adornest with vestments innumerable, of varied colors and wrought with gold, a dead body, insensible, no longer perceiving the honor; whilst that which is in pain, and lamenting, and tormented, and racked by hunger and frost, thou neglectest; and givest more to vainglory, than to the fear of God.
[8.] And would that it stopped here; but immediately accusations are brought against the applicant. For why does he not work (you say)? And why is he to be maintained in idleness? But (tell me) is it by working that thou hast what thou hast, didst thou not receive it as an inheritance from thy fathers? And even if thou dost work, is this a reason why thou shouldest reproach another? Hearest thou not what Paul saith? For after saying, “He that worketh not, neither let him eat” ( 2 Thess. iii. 10 ), he says, “But ye be not weary in well doing.” ( 2 Thess. iii. 13.)
But what say they? He is an impostor.2919
But (you say) he has means, and pretends. This is a charge against thyself, not against him. He knows that he has to deal with the cruel, with wild beasts rather than with men, and that, even if he utter a pitiable story, he attracts no one’s attention: and on this account he is forced to assume also a more miserable guise, that he may melt thy soul. If we see a person coming to beg in a respectable dress, This is an impostor (you say), and he comes in this way that he may be supposed to be of good birth. If we see one in the contrary guise, him too we reproach. What then are they to do? O the cruelty, O the inhumanity!
And why (you say) do they expose their maimed limbs? Because of thee. If we were compassionate, they would have no need of these artifices: if they persuaded us at the first application, they would not have contrived these devices. Who is there so wretched, as to be willing to cry out so much, as to be willing to behave in an unseemly way, as to be willing to make public lamentations, with his wife destitute of clothing, with his children, to sprinkle ashes on [himself]. How much worse than poverty are these things? Yet on account of them not only are they not pitied, but are even accused by us.
But (you say) I have often given. But dost thou not always eat? And dost thou drive away thy children often begging of thee? O the shamelessness! Dost thou call a poor man shameless? And thou indeed art not shameless when plundering, but he is shameless when begging for bread! Considerest thou not how great are the necessities of the belly? Dost not thou do all things for this? Dost thou not for this neglect things spiritual? Is not heaven set before thee and the kingdom of heaven? And thou fearing the tyranny of that [appetite] endurest all things, and thinkest lightly of that [kingdom]. This is shamelessness.
Seest thou not old men maimed? But O what trifling! ‘Such an one’ (you say) ‘lends out so many pieces of gold, and such an one so many, and yet begs.’ You repeat the stories and trifles of children; for they too are always hearing such stories from their nurses. I am not persuaded of it. I do not believe this. Far from it. Does a man lend money, and beg when he has abundance? For what purpose, tell me? And what is more disgraceful than begging? It were better to die than to beg. Where does our inhumanity stop? What then? Do all lend money? Are all impostors? Is there no one really poor? “Yea” (you say) “and many.” Why then dost thou not assist those persons, seeing thou art a strict enquirer into their lives? This is an excuse and a pretense.
[10.] Let us “be merciful,” not simply so, but “as our heavenly Father is.” ( Luke vi. 36.) He feeds even adulterers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and what shall I say? Those having every kind of wickedness. For in so large a world there must needs be many such. But nevertheless He feeds all; He clothes all. No one ever perished of hunger, unless one did so of his own choice. So let us be merciful. If one be in want and in necessity, help him.
But now we are come to such a degree of unreasonableness, as to act thus not only in regard to the poor who walk up and down the alleys, but even in the case of men that live in [religious] solitude.2922
Enquire, if thou wilt, how Abraham showed hospitality towards all who came to him. If he had been over-curious about those who fled to him for refuge, he would not have “entertained angels.” ( c. xiii. 2.) For perhaps not thinking them to be angels, he would have thrust them too away with the rest. But since he used to receive all, he received even angels.
What? Is it from the life of those that receive [thy bounty] that God grants thee thy reward? Nay [it is] from thine own purpose, from thy abundant liberality; from thy loving-kindness; from thy goodness. Let this be [found], and thou shalt attain all good things, which may we all attain, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and together with the Holy Ghost, be glory, power, honor, now and for ever and world without end. Amen.