Are you a Christian?
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[1.] There are many things characteristic of Christianity: but more than all, and better than all, Love towards one another, and Peace. Therefore Christ also saith, “My peace I give unto you.” ( John xiv. 27.) And again, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye love one another.” ( John xiii. 35.) Therefore Paul too says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness,” that is, purity,3409
“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.” As if they were traveling together on some long journey, in a large company, he says, Take heed that no man be left behind: I do not seek this only, that ye should arrive yourselves, but also that ye should look diligently after the others.
“Lest any man” (he says) “fail of the grace of God.” (He means the good things to come, the faith of the gospel, the best course of life: for they all are of “the Grace of God.”) Do not tell me, It is [but] one that perisheth. Even for one Christ died. Hast thou no care for him “for whom Christ died”? ( 1 Cor. viii. 11.)
“Looking diligently,” he saith, that is, searching carefully, considering, thoroughly ascertaining, as is done in the case of sick persons, and in all ways examining, thoroughly ascertaining. “Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you.” ( Deut. xxix. 18.) This is found in Deuteronomy; and he derived it from the metaphor of plants. “Lest any root of bitterness,” he says; which he said also in another place when he writes, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” ( 1 Cor. v. 6.) Not for his sake alone do I wish this, he means, but also on account of the harm arising therefrom. That is to say, even if there be a root of this kind, do not suffer any shoot to come up, but let it be cut off, that it may not bear its proper fruits, that so it may not defile and pollute the others also. For, he saith, “Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you; and by it many be defiled.”
And with good reason did he call sin “bitter”: for truly nothing is more bitter than sin, and they know it, who after they have committed it pine away under their conscience, who endure much bitterness. For being exceedingly bitter, it perverts the reasoning faculty itself. Such is the nature of what is bitter: it is unprofitable.
And well said he, “root of bitterness.” He said not, “bitter,” but “of bitterness.” For it is possible that a bitter root might bear sweet fruits; but it is not possible that a root and fountain and foundation of bitterness, should ever bear sweet fruit; for all is bitter, it has nothing sweet, all are bitter, all unpleasant, all full of hatred and abomination.
And wherein was Esau a “fornicator”? He does not say that Esau was a fornicator. “Lest there be any fornicator,” he says, then, “follow after holiness: lest there be any, as Esau, profane”: that is, gluttonous, without self-control, worldly, selling away things spiritual.
“Who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright,” who through his own slothfulness sold this honor which he had from God, and for a little pleasure, lost the greatest honor and glory. This was suitable to them. This [was the conduct] of an abominable, of an unclean person. So that not only is the fornicator unclean, but also the glutton, the slave of his belly. For he also is a slave of a different pleasure. He is forced to be overreaching, he is forced to be rapacious, to behave himself unseemly in ten thousand ways, being the slave of that passion, and oftentimes he blasphemes. So he accounted “his birthright” to be nothing worth. That is, providing for temporary refreshment, he went even to the [sacrifice of his] “birthright.” So henceforth “the birthright” belongs to us, not to the Jews. And at the same time also this is added to their calamity, that the first is become last, and the second, first: the one, for courageous endurance; the other last for indolence.
[3.] Ver. 17. “For ye know” (he says) “how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected. For he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” What now is this? Doth he indeed exclude repentance? By no means. ‘But how, you say, was it that “he found no place of repentance”?’ For if he condemned himself, if he made a great wailing, why did he “find no place of repentance”? Because it was not really a case of repentance. For as the grief of Cain was not of repentance, and the murder proved it; so also in this case, his words were not those of repentance, and the murder afterwards proved it. For even he also in intention slew Jacob. For “The days of mourning for my father,” he said, “are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.” ( Gen. xxvii. 41.) “Tears” had not power to give him “repentance.” And [the Apostle] did not say “by repentance” simply, but even “with tears, he found no place of repentance.” Why now? Because he did not repent as he ought, for this is repentance; he repented not as it behoved him.
“For he found” (he says) “no place of repentance,” he found not repentance; or that he sinned beyond3413
[4.] As many then as do not believe in Hell, let them call these things to mind: as many as think to sin without being punished, let them take account of these things. Why did Esau not obtain pardon? Because he repented not as he ought. Wouldest thou see perfect repentance? Hear of the repentance of Peter after his denial. For the Evangelist in relating to us the things concerning him, says, “And he went out and wept bitterly.” ( Matt. xxvi. 75.) Therefore even such a sin was forgiven him, because he repented as he ought. Although the Victim had not yet been offered, nor had The Sacrifice as yet been made, nor was sin as yet-taken away, it still had the rule and sovereignty.
And that thou mayest learn, that this denial [arose] not so much from sloth, as from His being forsaken of God, who was teaching him to know the measures of man and not to contradict the sayings of the Master, nor to be more high-minded than the rest, but to know that nothing can be done without God, and that “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it” ( Ps. cxxvii. 1 ): therefore also Christ said to him alone, “Satan desired to sift thee as wheat,” and I allowed it not, “that thy faith may not fail.” ( Luke xxii. 31, 32.) For since it was likely that he would be high-minded, being conscious to himself that he loved Christ more than they all, therefore “he wept bitterly”; and he did other things after his weeping, of the same character. For what did he do? After this he exposed himself to dangers innumerable, and by many means showed his manliness and courage.
Judas also repented, but in an evil way: for he hanged himself. Esau too repented; as I said; or rather, he did not even repent; for his tears were not [tears] of repentance, but rather of pride and wrath. And what followed proved this. The blessed David repented, thus saying, “Every night will I wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears.” ( Ps. vi. 6.) And the sin which had been committed long ago, after so many years, after so many generations he bewailed, as if it had recently occurred.
[5.] For he who repents ought not to be angry, nor to be fierce, but to be contrite, as one condemned, as not having boldness, as one on whom sentence has been passed, as one who ought to be saved by mercy alone, as one who has shown himself ungrateful toward his Benefactor, as unthankful, as reprobate, as worthy of punishments innumerable. If he considers these things, he will not be angry, he will not be indignant, but will mourn, will weep, will groan, and lament night and day.
He that is penitent ought never to forget his sin, but on the one hand, to beseech God not to remember it; while on the other, he himself never forgets it. If we remember it, God will forget it. Let us exact punishment from ourselves; let us accuse ourselves; thus shall we propitiate the Judge. For sin confessed becomes less, but not confessed worse. For if sin add to itself shamelessness and ingratitude, how will he who does not know that he sinned before be at all able to guard himself from falling again into the same [evils]?
Let us then not deny [our sins], I beseech you, nor be shameless, that we may not unwillingly pay the penalty. Cain heard God say, “Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not; am I my brother’s keeper?” ( Gen. iv. 9.) Seest thou how this made his sin more grievous? But his father did not act thus. What then? When he heard, “Adam, where art thou?” ( Gen. iii. 9 ), he said, “I heard Thy voice, and I was afraid, because I am naked, and I hid myself.” ( Gen. iii. 10.) It is a great good to acknowledge our sins, and to bear them in mind continually. Nothing so effectually cures a fault, as a continual remembrance of it. Nothing makes a man so slow to wickedness.
Let us persuade ourselves that we have sinned. Let us say it not with the tongue only, but also with the mind. Let us not call ourselves sinners, but also count over our sins, going over them each specifically.3417
If thou keep thy sins continually in remembrance, thou wilt never bear in mind the wrongs of thy neighbor. I do not say, if thou art persuaded that thou art thyself a sinner; this does not avail so to humble the soul, as sins themselves [taken] by themselves, and examined specifically.3418
[7.] Seest thou how many excellent [effects] are produced from the remembrance of our sins? Let us then write them in our minds. I know that the soul does not endure a recollection which is so bitter: but let us constrain and force it. It is better that it should be gnawed with the remembrance now, than at that time with vengeance.
Now, if thou remember them, and continually present them before God (see p. 448), and pray for them, thou wilt speedily blot them out; but if thou forget them now, thou wilt then be reminded of them even against thy will, when they are brought out publicly before the whole world, displayed before all, both friends and enemies, and Angels. For surely He did not say to David only, “What thou didst secretly, I will make manifest to” ( 2 Sam. xii. 12 ) all, but even to us all. Thou wert afraid of men (he said) and respected them more than God; and God seeing thee, thou caredst not, but wert ashamed before men. For it says,3419
See again the five virgins also, hearing before all, “I know you not.” ( Matt. xxv. 12.) For the five and five do not set forth the number of five only, but those virgins who are wicked and cruel and inhuman, and those who are not such. So also he that buried his one talent, heard before all, even of those who had brought the five and the two, “Thou wicked and slothful servant.” ( Matt. xxv. 26.) But not by words alone, but by deeds also does He then convict them: even as the Evangelist also says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” ( John xix. 37.) For the resurrection shall be of all at the same time, of sinners and of the righteous. At the same time shall He be present to all in the judgment.
[8.] Consider therefore who they are who shall then be in dismay, who in grief, who dragged away to the fire, while the others are crowned. “Come” (He says), “ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom which hath been prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” ( Matt. xxv. 34.) And again, “Depart from Me into the fire which hath been prepared for the devil and his angels.” ( Matt. xxv. 41.)
Let us not merely hear the words but write them also before our sight, and let us imagine Him to be now present and saying these things, and that we are led away to that fire. What heart shall we have? What consolation? And what, when we are cut asunder? And what when we are accused of rapacity? What excuse shall we have to utter? What specious argument? None: but of necessity bound, bending down, we must be dragged to the mouths of the furnace, to the river of fire, to the darkness, to then ever-dying punishments, and entreat no one. For it is not, it is not possible, He says, to pass across from this side to that: for “there is a great gulf betwixt us and you” ( Luke xvi. 26 ),and it is not possible even for those who wish it to go across, and stretch out a helping hand: but we must needs burn continually, no one aiding us, even should it be father or mother, or any whosoever, yea though he have much boldness toward God. For, it says, “A brother doth not redeem; shall man redeem?” ( Ps. xlix. 8.)
Since then it is not possible to have one’s hopes of salvation in another, but [it must be] in one’s self after the lovingkindness of God, let us do all things, I entreat you, so that our conduct may be pure, and our course of life the best, and that it may not receive any stain even from the beginning. But if not, at all events, let us not sleep after the stain, but continue always washing away the pollution by repentance, by tears, by prayers, by works of mercy.
What then, you say, if I cannot do works of mercy?3421
These things we say to you continually, that we may effect if it be but a little by the continued repetition: these things we say, not caring so much for those who receive the benefits, as for yourselves. For ye give to them indeed things here, but in return you receive heavenly things: which may we all obtain, in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom to the Father be glory, together with the Holy Ghost, now and ever, and world without end. Amen.