The Fourth Sunday after Easter
Augustine of Hippo on John xvi. 4ff
Home for the Fourth Sunday after Easter
ALMIGHTY God, which dost make the minds of all faithful men to be of one will; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Source of Collect: Sacrementary of Gelasius [ca 494 AD]. This is the 1552 BCP rendering. The collect was later changed in 1662 so that the attribute read, "who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men", in response to the years before when the Church of England, Bishops, and Prayer Book had been suppressed under Cromwell.
Ezekiel xxxix. 21, Psalm 147, St. James i. 17. St. John xvi. 5.
Homily of Augustine
Fix your heart on Jesus
Homily Augustine of Hippo
1. When the Lord Jesus had foretold His disciples the persecutions they would have to suffer after His departure, He went on to say: “And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you; but now I go my way to Him that sent me.” And here the first thing we have to look at is, whether He had not previously foretold them of the sufferings that were to come. And the three other evangelists make it sufficiently clear that He had uttered such predictions prior to the approach of the supper: which was over, according to John, when He spake, and added, “And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you.” Are we, then, to settle such a question in this way, that they, too, tell us that He was near His passion when He said these things? Then it was not when He was with them at the beginning that He so spake, for He was on the very eve of departing, and proceeding to the Father: and so also, even according to these evangelists, it is strictly true what is here said, “And these things I said not unto you at the beginning.” But what are we to do with the credibility of the Gospel according to Matthew, who relates that such announcements were made to them by the Lord, not only when He was on the eve of sitting down with His disciples to the passover supper, but also at the beginning, when the twelve apostles are for the first time expressed by name, and sent forth on the work of God? What, then, is the meaning of what He says here, “And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you;” but that what He says here of the Holy Spirit who was to come to them, and to bear witness, when they should have such ills to endure, this He said not unto them at the beginning, because He was with themselves?
2. The Comforter then, or Advocate (for both form the interpretation of the Greek word, paraclete), had become necessary on Christ’s departure: and therefore He had not spoken of Him at the beginning, when He was with them, because His own presence was their comfort; but on the eve of His own departure it behoved Him to speak of His coming, by whom it would be brought about that with love shed abroad in their hearts they would preach the word of God with all boldness; and with Him inwardly bearing witness with them of Christ, they also should bear witness, and feel it to be no cause of stumbling when their Jewish enemies put them out of the synagogues, and slew them, with the thought that they were doing God service; because the charity beareth all things, which was to be shed abroad in their hearts by the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this, therefore, is the whole meaning to be found, that He was to make them His martyrs, that is, His witnesses through the Holy Spirit; so that by His effectual working within them, they would endure the hardships of all kinds of persecution, and, set aglow at that divine fire, lose none of their warmth in the love of preaching. “These things,” therefore, He says, “have I told you, that, when their time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them” (ver. 4). These things, I say, I have told you, not merely because ye shall have to endure such things, but because, when the Comforter is come, He shall bear witness of me, that ye may not keep them back through fear, and by whom ye yourselves shall also be enabled to bear witness. “And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you,” and I myself was your comfort through my bodily presence exhibited to your human senses, and which, as infants, ye were able to comprehend.
3. “But now I go my way to Him that sent me; and none of you,” He says, “asketh me, Whither goest Thou?” He means that His departure would be such that none would ask Him of that which they should see taking place in broad daylight before their eyes: for previously to this they had asked Him whither He was going, and had been answered that He was going whither they themselves could not then come. Now, however, He promises that He will go away in such a manner that none of them shall ask Him whither He goes. For a cloud received Him when He ascended up from their side; and of His going into heaven they made no verbal inquiry, but had ocular evidence.
4. “But because I have said these things unto you,” He adds, “sorrow hath filled your heart.” He saw, indeed, what effect these words of His were producing in their hearts; for having not yet within them the spiritual consolation, which they were afterwards to have by the Holy Spirit, what they still saw objectively in Christ they were afraid of losing; and because they could have no doubt they were about to lose Him whose announcements were always true, their human feelings were saddened, because their carnal view of Him was to be left a blank. But He knew what was most expedient for them, because that inward sight, wherewith the Holy Spirit was yet to comfort them, was undoubtedly superior; not by bringing a human body into the bodies of those who saw, but by infusing Himself into the hearts of those who believed. And then He adds, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away. For if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you:” as if He had said, It is expedient for you that this form of a servant be taken away from you; as the Word made indeed flesh I dwell among you; but I would not that ye should continue to love me carnally, and, content with such milk, desire to remain infants always. “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you.” If I withdraw not the tender nutriment wherewith I have nourished you, ye will acquire no keen relish of solid food; if ye adhere in a carnal way to the flesh, ye will not have room for the Spirit. For what is this, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you”? Was it that He could not send Him while located here Himself? Who would venture to say so? Neither was it, that where He was, thence the Other had withdrawn, or that He had so come from the Father as that He did not still abide with the Father. And still further, how could He, even when having His own abode on earth, be unable to send Him, who we know came and remained upon Him at His baptism; yea, more, from whom we know that He was never separable? What does it mean, then, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you;” but that ye cannot receive the Spirit so long as ye continue to know Christ after the flesh? Hence one who had already been made a partaker of the Spirit says, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we [Him] no more.” For now even the very flesh of Christ he did not know in a carnal way, when brought to a spiritual knowledge of the Word that had been made flesh. And such, doubtless, did the good Master wish to intimate, when He said, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.”
5. But with Christ’s bodily departure, both the Father and the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit, were spiritually present with them. For had Christ departed from them in such a sense that it would be in His place, and not along with Him, that the Holy Spirit would be present in them, what becomes of His promise when He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world;” and, I and the Father “will come unto him, and will make Our abode with him;” seeing that He also promised that He would send the Holy Spirit in such a way that He would be with them for ever? In this way it was, on the other hand, that seeing they were yet out of their present carnal or animal condition to become spiritual, with undoubted certainty also were they yet to have in a more comprehensive way both the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But in no one are we to believe that the Father is present without the Son and the Holy Spirit, or the Father and the Son without the Holy Spirit, or the Son without the Father and the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son, or the Father and the Holy Spirit without the Son; but wherever any one of Them is, there also is the Trinity, one God. But here the Trinity had to be suggested in such a way that, although there was no diversity of essence, yet the personal distinction of each one separately should be presented to notice; where those who have a right understanding can never imagine a separation of natures.
6. But that which follows, “And when He is come, He will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, indeed, because they believe not on me; but of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye shall see me no more; and of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (vers. 8–11); as if it were sin simply not to believe on Christ; and as if it were very righteousness not to see Christ; and as if that were the very judgment, that the prince of this world, that is, the devil, is judged: all this is very obscure, and cannot be included in the present discourse, lest brevity only increase the obscurity; but must rather be deferred till another occasion for such explanation as the Lord may enable us to give.