The Pleader's Blessed Promises
Unexpected encouragement for all those who evangelize and exhort others, from the opening pages of the first of Four Discourses of John Chrysostom: Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
For the springs, even if no one drink of them, continue to flow; and fountains, though no one should use their water, still burst forth; and rivers, though no man profit by them, still run on.
So then, also, it is right that the preacher, even if no one attend to his voice, should fulfil all his duty. For also in His love to man, a law is given by God to those who are entrusted with the ministry of the word, never to cease to discharge the duties of their office nor to be silent, whether the people have regard to their voice, or whether they neglect it.
Jeremiah, therefore, having declared many threatenings to the Jews and warnings of future evils, was mocked by those who heard his voice, and was ridiculed all the day long. From human infirmity, feeling unable to endure scoffs and reviling, he at one time endeavoured to escape from his ministry. Hear him speak concerning this when he says: “I am in derision daily; then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in the name of the Lord. But His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay,” (Jer. 20:7, 9) This it is which he says;—“I was desirous to escape from prophesying, since the Jews did not listen to me; and all the while I was desiring this, the influence of the Holy Spirit penetrated like fire into my inmost soul, consuming all my inward parts and my bones, and devouring me, so that I could not endure the burning.”
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If, therefore, he, when he was laughed at and derided each day; when he desired to be silent, underwent such punishment; of what forgiveness can we be worthy, who never at any time are treated thus, if we faint on account of the slowness of some, and cease from instructing them, and especially when there are so many who are attentive!
(2.) I do not say these things to console or to comfort myself, for I have made up my mind, as long as I breathe, and as long as it shall seem good to God that I remain in this present life, to fulfil this ministry, and, whether any one attends or not, to do the work allotted to me. But since there are some who weaken the hands of many, and who, besides that they bring forward nothing useful for our present life, and relax the zeal of others, by derision and ridicule, saying: “Cease counselling; leave off warning; they do not attend to you: you have no fellow-feeling with them;”—since there are those who say such things,—purposing to expel this wicked and morose idea, this satanic counsel, from the minds of many, I address you thus at length.
I know that such things were said even yesterday by many who, when they saw certain people spending time in taverns, said, laughing and deriding: “Are these fully persuaded? These are they who never enter a tavern! Have they all arrived at wisdom?” What dost thou say, O man? Is it this that we undertook to do, to enclose all in the net in one day? For if ten only were persuaded—if only five,—if even one,—is not this sufficient to console us? For my part I can even go beyond this. Suppose that none were persuaded by our words, although it is impossible that the word spoken to so many hearers can be fruitless—suppose, however, even this,—still the word would not be without profit. For, if they did enter a tavern, they did not enter it with such shamelessness as was their wont; but even at the festive table they often thought of our words—of the rebuke,—of the blame; which, when they remembered, they would be ashamed—they would inwardly blush. Neither, though acting in their usual way, did they do so with their usual recklessness.
And this is the beginning of salvation, and of the best kind of change—namely, the being in any degree ashamed—the disapproving in some measure of that which was being done. Besides this, another and not smaller gain accrues to us from this our work. What then is it? It is the making those who are already wise more careful. It is the persuading them by the word spoken that they are of all men the best advised, since they are not led away with the multitude.
I did not restore the sick to health? But I strengthened those that were well. The word did not lead any away from their sin? But it made more steadfast those who were living virtuously. To these reasons I will add a third. I have not persuaded to-day? But I shall persuade, perhaps, to-morrow. Or even if not to-morrow, I may after to-morrow, or even the day following. He who to-day heard and rejected the word, perhaps will hear and obey to-morrow; he who spurns the word to-day and to-morrow, perhaps in a few more days will attend to that which is spoken. For even the fisherman often casts his net the whole day in vain; and in the evening, when he is about to depart, captures and takes home the fish that had escaped him all the day long.
And if, on account of frequent want of success, we were to live in idleness, and cease from all work, our whole life would be brought to nought, and not only spiritual affairs but also temporal would be ruined. For also the husbandman, if on account of the once, or twice, or oft-repeated inclemency of the season, were to abandon his work, we all should perish by famine. Again, if the mariner, on account of the once, or twice, or oft-recurring storms, were to forsake the sea, the ocean would become impassable, and in that way also our life would be quite marred. Thus, going through all employments, if men should act as you urge and advise us to do, all would utterly fail, and the earth would become uninhabitable. All men, therefore, having this in view, if once, or twice, or if often they fail to gain the object of the labour in which they spend their time, still apply themselves to the work again with undiminished alacrity.
(3.) Knowing, then, all these things, beloved, let us not, I beseech you, speak in this way; let us not say, “What is the need of such discourses? No good results from them.” The husbandman once, or twice, or often sowing in the same field, and failing to profit by it, labours again in the same ground, and often recovers in one good year the loss of all his previous time. It often happens that the merchant, suffering from many shipwrecks, does not shun the sea; but prepares his vessel, and hires seamen, and spends money again in the same kind of undertaking, although the future is as uncertain as before. And all who are accustomed to engage in any occupation whatever act in the same way as the husbandman and the merchant.
If then they show such zeal in the affairs of this life, although the result is doubtful, shall we, because when we speak we are not listened to, immediately desist? What excuse shall we have? Besides, in their misfortunes, there is no one to console them for their loss, no one who, if the sea engulf the ship, will remove the poverty caused by the wreck. If the rain flood the field and cause the seed to perish, the husbandman must of necessity return home with empty hands. But with us, who preach and warn men, the case is not so. For when thou sowest the seed, and the hearer receives it not, and does not bring forth the fruit of obedience, thou hast the reward of thy intent, laid up with God; and thou wilt receive the same recompense whether the hearer obey or disobey; for thou hast performed all thy duty. We are not responsible for not convincing those who hear, but only for giving them counsel. It is ours to warn; to give heed to the warning is theirs.
And just as, if they do many good deeds without our giving any exhortation, all the gain would be theirs only, since we did not counsel them; so, if they give no heed when we warn, all the punishment falls on them; against us there is no accusation, but rather a great reward from God awaits us, since we have discharged our duty. We are commanded only to give the money to the exchangers,* that is, to speak and to give counsel. Speak, therefore, and warn thy brother. He listens not? Still thou hast thy reward prepared. Only always act thus, and never give up as long as life lasts, until you succeed in producing conversion. Let the termination of your giving counsel be the reception of your warning.
The Tempter continually goes to and fro to baffle our salvation, while he himself gains nothing, but rather is to the last degree a loser by his zeal; but still so maddened is he, that he often attempts impossible things, and attacks not only those whom he expects to cause utterly to stumble or fall, but also those who in all probability will escape his snares. Therefore, when he heard Job praised by that God who knows all secrets, he thought to be able to overcome, nor did he in his guile cease trying every method and every device in order to cause the man to fall. The Spirit of all evil and wickedness did not shrink from the attempt, though God had ascribed such grace to that just man. Are not we then ashamed? Tell me, do we not blush if, while the Enemy never despairs of accomplishing our ruin, but always expects it, we despair of the salvation of our brethren? In fact, Satan ought, before the attempt, to have abstained from the contest, for it was God himself who testified to the virtue of the righteous man. Still he did not desist, but because of his mad hatred of us, he, even after the favourable testimony of God himself, hoped to deceive that just man. In our case there is no such circumstance to cause us to despair, and still we desist!
The devil, also, although forbidden by God, does not cease from fighting against us; but thou, whilst God enjoins and incites thee to the recovery of the fallen, dost fly from the work! The tempter heard God saying: A just man, true, God-fearing, and abstaining from every evil work, and that there was none like him on the earth; yet after such strong and high testimony in favour of Job, he persevered, and said: “Shall I not at length, by the continuousness and greatness of the evils brought upon him, be able to circumvent him, and overthrow this great pillar?”
(4.) What forgiveness, therefore, will there be for us, if (while we undergo such fury of the wicked one against ourselves) we do not bring to bear even the smallest part of this zeal for the salvation of our brethren, even while in these matters we have God for our helper! For when thou seest thy brother wicked and morose and giving no heed to thee, say thus within thyself: “Shall I not some time or other be able to persuade him.” Thus also St Paul commanded us to do: “The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth,” (2 Tim. 2:24, 25.) Dost thou not observe how often fathers, when in despair about their children, sit down weeping, bewailing, embracing them, trying everything in their power until the last breath? This do thou also for thy brother. Although parents by their lamentations and tears can neither remove sickness nor avert approaching death, yet thou, in the case of a soul even when given up, mayest through perseverance and assiduity, by lamentation and tears, bring about recovery and restoration. Hast thou given counsel and failed to convince? Then weep, and make frequent efforts; groan deeply, that, shamed by thy constancy, he may turn to seek salvation.
What can I do alone? For I singly am not able to be present with you all every day, nor am I sufficient to convince such a multitude. But ye, if ye be minded to care for the salvation of each other, and every one to take in hand one of our neglected brethren—ye would quickly further the edification of us all. And what need is there to speak of those who, after repeated warnings, have come to their right mind? It behoves us not to abandon or neglect even those who are diseased incurably, even if we foresee clearly that, after having had the benefit of our zeal and good counsel, they will not at all profit by it. And if this that I say seem to you unreasonable, suffer me to confirm it by things which Christ himself said and did. For we men being ignorant of the future, cannot therefore be certain, as to the hearers, whether they will be persuaded or whether they will disbelieve that which we say; but Christ, knowing both one and the other perfectly, did not cease instructing the disobedient even to the end. Thus, knowing that Judas would not be turned aside from his treachery, Christ did not desist from trying to turn him from his faithlessness, by counsel, by warnings, by kind treatment, by threatening, by every kind of instruction, and by continually checking him by His words as by a rein.
This He did to teach us that, although we know beforehand that the brethren will not be persuaded, we must do all in our power, since the reward of our admonition is sure. Mark also how assiduously and wisely the Lord restrained Judas when He said, “One of you shall betray me,” (Matt. 26:21;) and again, “I speak not of you all. I know whom I have chosen,” (John 13:18;) and again, “One of you is a devil,” (John 6:70.) He preferred to put them all in an agony of doubt rather than reveal the traitor or make him the more shameless by open reproof. For that these sayings produced trouble and dread in the others, although conscious in themselves of no evil, hear them each with earnest striving say, “Lord, is it I?” (Matt. 26:22.)
Not only by words did He instruct him, but also by acts. For while Christ often and fully manifested His love to man,—cleansing the lepers, casting out devils, healing the sick, raising the dead, restoring the paralytic, and doing good to all; on the other hand, He punished no one, and constantly said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world,” (John 12:47.) But that ‘Judas should not think that Christ knew only how to bless and not to punish, Christ teaches him also this very thing, namely, that He was able to punish and inflict penalties on sinners.
(5.) Behold, then, how wisely and appropriately He teaches him this thing; and notice that He does not consent to punish or inflict a penalty on any human being. And why? In order that the disciple might learn His power to punish. For, had He punished any man, He would have seemed to have acted contrary to His own declaration when He said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
On the other hand, had He exhibited no power of chastisement, the disciple would have remained in error, not learning from His deeds His power of inflicting punishment. How then did it come to pass? In order that the disciple should be made to fear, and not become worse for lack of reverence, nor himself undergo punishment and penalty, Christ displayed this His power on the fig-tree, saying, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward,” (Matt. 21:19,) and, by His mere word, caused it instantly to wither. In this way, without causing harm to any man, He himself showed His might, though it was only a tree that bore the infliction.
And the disciple, if he had attended to this instance of punishment, would have reaped profit from it. Still, however, even thus he was not corrected. And Christ, foreseeing even this, not only did this thing, but afterwards wrought a much greater wonder. For when the Jews came against Him, armed with swords and staves, He caused them all to become blind; this being shown by His saying, “Whom seek ye?” Since Judas had said again and again, “What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?” (Matt. 26:15,) the Lord, wishing to prove to the Jews, and to let Judas also know, that He went of His own accord to His sufferings, and that all these events were in His own power;—that He was not overpowered by the wickedness of another, He said, when the traitor with all his companions stood still, “Whom seek ye?” Judas did not know Him whom he came to betray, for his eyes were blinded. Nor was this all, but Christ by His word caused them all to fall backward to the ground.
And since even this did not render them less cruel, nor cause the wretched man to desist from his treachery,—for he was still incorrigible,—Christ even now did not give up His kindness and regard; but mark how movingly He deals with this mind devoid of shame, and how He speaks words which ought to melt a heart of stone. For when Judas advances to kiss Him, what does Christ say? “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48.) Art thou not ashamed of the manner in which thou betrayest Me? This Christ said to touch him, and bring his former intimacy to remembrance. But while the Lord acted and spoke thus, the betrayer did not change for the better—not on account of the weakness of Him from whom the counsel came, but the worthlessness of him to whom it came.
And Christ, although He foresaw all these things, did not cease, from the beginning to the close of the scene, to do all that was consistent with His own character. Since we know all these things, we ought to teach and to love, constantly and fully, those of our brethren who are negligent, even though we do not gain the object of our counsel. For if, knowing such a result, the Lord exhibited such solicitude for him who would profit nothing by the warning, what allowance can be made for us, when, not knowing the result, we are thus careless about the salvation of our neighbour,—when we desist after the second or third warning?
Besides all these things that we have said, let us take into consideration our own case, since God addresses us day after day, by the prophets, by the apostles, and day after day we are disobedient; and still He does not cease to reason with and to call upon those who are always obstinate and inattentive. Paul also cries aloud, using these words: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you in Christ’s stead be ye reconciled to God,” (2 Cor. 5:20.) If one may say a strange thing, he who foresees that the recipient of his counsel will in some degree be persuaded by it, and thus gives his advice, is not worthy of such praise as he who, oftentimes speaking and counselling, fails, but notwithstanding does not cease. For, in the first case, the hope of convincing stimulates him to exertion, even though he should be of all men most slothful; but the other, who gives counsel and is neglected, and still does not desist, gives proof of the most ardent and purest love; he is stimulated by no such hope as in the former instance;—only through love towards his brother does he persevere in his anxious care. But that we ought never to desert the fallen, even when we foresee that they will not be persuaded by us, we have already sufficiently shown.
John Chrysostom. (1869). Four Discourses of Chrysostom: Chiefly on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (F. Allen, Trans.). Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.
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