Augustine/The City of God/Book X/Chapter 25
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Chapter 25: That All the Saints, Both Under the Law and Before It, Were Justified by Faith in the Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation.
It was by faith in this mystery, and godliness of life, that purification was attainable even by the saints of old, whether before the law was given to the Hebrews (for God and the angels were even then present as instructors), or in the periods under the law, although the promises of spiritual things, being presented in figure, seemed to be carnal, and hence the name of Old Testament. For it was then the prophets lived, by whom, as by angels, the same promise was announced; and among them was he whose grand and divine sentiment regarding the end and supreme good of man I have just now quoted, “It is good for me to cleave to God.” In this psalm the distinction between the Old and New Testaments is distinctly announced. For the Psalmist says, that when he saw that the carnal and earthly promises were abundantly enjoyed by the ungodly, his feet were almost gone, his steps had well-nigh slipped; and that it seemed to him as if he had served God in vain, when he saw that those who despised God increased in that prosperity which he looked for at God’s hand. He says, too, that, in investigating this matter with the desire of understanding why it was so, he had labored in vain, until he went into the sanctuary of God, and understood the end of those whom he had erroneously considered happy. Then he understood that they were cast down by that very thing, as he says, which they had made their boast, and that they had been consumed and perished for their inequities; and that that whole fabric of temporal prosperity had become as a dream when one awaketh, and suddenly finds himself destitute of all the joys he had imaged in sleep. And, as in this earth or earthy city they seemed to themselves to be great, he says, “O Lord, in Thy city Thou wilt reduce their image to nothing.” He also shows how beneficial it had been for him to seek even earthly blessings only from the one true God, in whose power are all things, for he says, “As a beast was I before Thee, and I am always with Thee.” “As a beast,” he says, meaning that he was stupid. For I ought to have sought from Thee such things as the ungodly could not enjoy as well as I, and not those things which I saw them enjoying in abundance, and hence concluded I was serving Thee in vain, because they who declined to serve Thee had what I had not. Nevertheless, “I am always with Thee,” because even in my desire for such things I did not pray to other gods. And consequently he goes on, “Thou hast holden me by my right hand, and by Thy counsel Thou hast guided me, and with glory hast taken me up;” as if all earthly advantages were left-hand blessings, though, when he saw them enjoyed by the wicked, his feet had almost gone. “For what,” he says, “have I in heaven, and what have I desired from Thee upon earth?” He blames himself, and is justly displeased with himself; because, though he had in heaven so vast a possession (as he afterwards understood), he yet sought from his God on earth a transitory and fleeting happiness;—a happiness of mire, we may say. “My heart and my flesh,” he says, “fail, O God of my heart.” Happy failure, from things below to things above! And hence in another psalm He says, “My soul longeth, yea, even faileth, for the courts of the Lord.” Yet, though he had said of both his heart and his flesh that they were failing, he did not say, O God of my heart and my flesh, but, O God of my heart; for by the heart the flesh is made clean. Therefore, says the Lord, “Cleanse that which is within, and the outside shall be clean also.” He then says that God Himself,—not anything received from Him, but Himself,—is his portion. “The God of my heart, and my portion for ever.” Among the various objects of human choice, God alone satisfied him. “For, lo,” he says, “they that are far from Thee shall perish: Thou destroyest all them that go a-whoring from Thee,”—that is, who prostitute themselves to many gods. And then follows the verse for which all the rest of the psalm seems to prepare: “It is good for me to cleave to God,”—not to go far off; not to go a-whoring with a multitude of gods. And then shall this union with God be perfected, when all that is to be redeemed in us has been redeemed. But for the present we must, as he goes on to say, “place our hope in God.” “For that which is seen,” says the apostle, “is not hope. For what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Being, then, for the present established in this hope, let us do what the Psalmist further indicates, and become in our measure angels or messengers of God, declaring His will, and praising His glory and His grace. For when he had said, “To place my hope in God,” he goes on, “that I may declare all Thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Zion.” This is the most glorious city of God; this is the city which knows and worships one God: she is celebrated by the holy angels, who invite us to their society, and desire us to become fellow-citizens with them in this city; for they do not wish us to worship them as our gods, but to join them in worshipping their God and ours; nor to sacrifice to them, but, together with them, to become a sacrifice to God. Accordingly, whoever will lay aside malignant obstinacy, and consider these things, shall be assured that all these blessed and immortal spirits, who do not envy us (for if they envied they were not blessed), but rather love us, and desire us to be as blessed as themselves, look on us with greater pleasure, and give us greater assistance, when we join them in worshipping one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, than if we were to offer to themselves sacrifice and worship.