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Lactantius: Chap. XXVII.—An encouragement and confirmation of the pious
Chap. XXVII.—An Encouragement and Confirmation of the Pious.
Since we have completed the seven courses 1438 of the work which we undertook, and have advanced to the goal, it remains that we exhort all to undertake wisdom together with true religion, the strength and office of which depends on this, that, despising earthly things, and laying aside the errors by which we were formerly held while we served frail things, and desired frail things, we may be directed to the eternal rewards of the heavenly treasure. And that we may obtain these, the alluring pleasures of the present life must as soon as possible be laid aside, which soothe the souls of men with pernicious sweetness. How great a happiness must it be thought, to be withdrawn from these stains of the earth, and to go to that most just Judge and indulgent Father, who in the place of labours gives rest, in the place of death life, in the place of darkness brightness, and in the place of short and earthly goods, gives those which are eternal and heavenly: with which reward the hardships and miseries which we endure in this world, in accomplishing the works of righteousness, can in no way be compared and equalled. Therefore, if we wish to be wise and happy, not only must those sayings of Terence be reflected upon and proposed to us,“That we must ever grind at the mill, we must be beaten, and put in fetters;” 1439
but things much more dreadful than these must be endured, namely, the prison, chains, and tortures: pains must be undergone, in short, death itself must be undertaken and borne, when it is clear to our conscience that that frail pleasure will not be without punishment, nor virtue without a divine reward. All, therefore, ought to endeavour either to direct themselves to the right way as soon as possible, or, having undertaken and exercised virtues, and having patiently performed the labours of this life, to deserve to have God as their comforter. For our Father and Lord, who built and strengthened the heaven, who placed in it the sun, with the other heavenly bodies, who by His power weighed the earth and fenced it with mountains, surrounded it with the sea, and divided it with rivers, and who made and completed out of nothing whatever there is in this workmanship of the world; having observed the errors of men, sent a Guide, who might open to us the way of righteousness: let us all follow Him, let us hear Him, let us obey Him with the greatest devotedness, since He alone, as Lucretius says, 1440“Cleansed mens breasts with truth-telling precepts, and fixed a limit to lust and fear, and explained what was the chief good which we all strive to reach, and pointed out the road by which, along a narrow track, we might arrive at it in a straightforward course.”
And not only pointed it out, but also went before us in it, that no one might dread the path of virtue on account of its difficulty. Let the way of destruction and deceit, if it is possible, be deserted, in which death is concealed, being covered by the attractions of pleasure.
And the more nearly each one, as his years incline to old age, sees to be the approach of that day in which he must depart from this life, let him reflect how he may leave it in purity, how he may come to the Judge in innocency; not as they do, to whose dark minds the light is denied, 1441 who, when the strength of their body now fails, are admonished in this of the last pressing necessity, that they should with greater eagerness and ardour apply themselves to the satisfying of their lusts. From which abyss let everyone free himself while it is permitted him, while the opportunity is present, and let him turn himself to God with his whole mind, that he may without anxiety await that day, in which God, the Ruler and Lord of the world, shall judge the deeds and thoughts of each. Whatever things are here desired, let him not only neglect, but also avoid them, and let him judge that his soul is of greater value than those deceitful goods, the possession of which is uncertain and transitory; for they take their departure every day, and they go forth much more quickly than they had entered, and if it is permitted us to enjoy them even to the last, they must still, without doubt, be left to others. We can take nothing with us, except a well and innocently spent life. That man will appear before God with abundant resources, that man will appear in opulence, to whom there shall belong self-restraint, mercy, patience, love, and faith. This is our inheritance, which can neither be taken away from any one, nor transferred to another. p. 223 And who is there who would wish to provide and acquire for himself these goods?
Let those who are hungry come, that being fed with heavenly food, they may lay aside their lasting hunger; let those who are athirst come, that they may with full mouth draw forth the water of salvation from an ever-flowing fountain. 1442 By this divine food and drink the blind shall both see, and the deaf hear, and the dumb speak, and the lame walk, and the foolish shall be wise, and the sick shall be strong, and the dead shall come to life again. For whoever by his virtue has trampled upon the corruptions of the earth, the supreme and truthful arbiter will raise him to life and to perpetual light. Let no one trust in riches, no one in badges of authority, no one even in royal power: these things do not make a man immortal. For whosoever shall cast away the conduct becoming a man, 1443 and, following present things, shall prostrate himself upon the ground, will be punished as a deserter from his Lord, his commander, and his Father. Let us therefore apply ourselves to righteousness, which will alone, as an inseparable companion, lead us to God; and “while a spirit rules these limbs,” 1444 let us serve God with unwearied service, let us keep our posts and watches, let us boldly engage with the enemy whom we know, that victorious and triumphant over our conquered adversary, we may obtain from the Lord that reward of valour which He Himself has promised.
For remarks on the dubious passages which bear upon that of p. 221, supra, see the General Note suffixed to the tractate on the Workmanship of God, p. 300, infra.
Decursis septem spatiis,—an expression borrowed from the chariot race: here applied to the seven books of this treatise.222:1439
Terent., Phorm., ii. 1. 19.222:1440
De Nat. Rer., vi. 24.222:1441
Quorum cæcis mentibus lux negatur. Others read, “Quidam cæcis mentibus viri.”223:1442
[This evident quotation from Rev. xxi. 7 and xxii. 17 is noteworthy as proof of the currency of the Apocalypse in North Africa.]223:1443
Virg., Æneid, iv. 336.
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