We have lingered over this subject of the martyrs and over the record of those who died on account of pestilence, because this lets us see the excellence of Him who was led as a sheep to the slaughter and was dumb as a lamb before the shearer. For if there is any point in these stories of the Greeks, and if what we have said of the martyrs is well founded,—the Apostles, too, were for the same reason the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things, 4969 —what and how great things must be said of the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for this very reason, that He might take away the sin not of a few but of the whole world, for the sake of which also He suffered? If any one sin, we read, 4970 “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world,” since He is the Saviour of all men, 4971 especially of them that believe, who 4972 blotted out the written bond that was against us by His own blood, and took it out of the way, so that not even a trace, not even of our blotted-out sins, might still be found, and nailed it to His cross; who having put off from Himself the principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them by His cross. And we are taught to rejoice when we suffer afflictions in the world, knowing the ground of our rejoicing to be this, that the world has been conquered and has manifestly been subjected to its conqueror. Hence all the nations, released from their former rulers, serve Him, because He 4973 saved the poor from his tyrant by His own passion, and the needy who had no helper. This Saviour, then, having humbled the calumniator by humbling Himself, abides with the visible sun before His illustrious church, tropically called the moon, from generation to generation. And having by His passion destroyed His enemies, He who is strong in battle and a mighty Lord 4974 required after His mighty deeds a purification which could only be given Him by His Father alone; and this is why He forbids Mary to touch Him, saying, 4975 “Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go and tell My disciples, I go to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.” And when He comes, loaded with victory and with trophies, with His body which has risen from the dead,—for what other meaning can we see in the words, “I am not yet ascended to My Father,” and “I go unto My Father,”—then there are certain powers which say, Who is this that cometh from Edom, red garments from Bosor; this that is beautiful? 4976 Then those who escort Him say to those that are upon the heavenly gates, 4977 “Lift up your gates, ye rulers, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in.” But they ask again, seeing as it were His right hand red with blood and His whole person covered with the marks of His valour, “Why are Thy garments red, and Thy clothes like the treading of the full winefat when it is trodden?” And to this He answers, “I have crushed them.” For this cause He had need to wash “His robe in wine, and His garment in the blood of the grape.” 4978 For when He had taken up our p. 379 infirmities and carried our diseases, and had borne the sin of the whole world, and had conferred blessings on so many, then, perhaps, He received that baptism which is greater than any that could ever be conceived among men, and of which I think He speaks when He says, 4979 “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?” I enquire here with boldness and I challenge the ideas put forward by most writers. They say that the greatest baptism, beyond which no greater can be conceived, is His passion. But if this be so, why should He say to Mary after it, “Touch Me not”? He should rather have offered Himself to her touch, when by His passion He had received His perfect baptism. But if it was the case, as we said before, that after all His deeds of valour done against His enemies, He had need to wash “His robe in wine, His garment in the blood of the grape,” then He was on His way up to the husbandman of the true vine, the Father, so that having washed there and after having gone up on high, He might lead captivity captive and come down bearing manifold gifts—the tongues, as of fire, which were divided to the Apostles, and the holy angels which are to be present with them in each action and to deliver them. For before these economies they were not yet cleansed and angels could not dwell with them, for they too perhaps do not desire to be with those who have not prepared themselves nor been cleansed by Jesus. For it was of Jesus benignity alone that He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and suffered the penitent woman who was a sinner to wash His feet with her tears, and went down even to death for the ungodly, counting it not robbery to be equal with God, and emptied Himself, assuming the form of a servant. And in accomplishing all this He fulfils rather the will of the Father who gave Him up for sinners than His own. For the Father is good, but the Saviour is the image of His goodness; and doing good to the world in all things, since God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, which formerly for its wickedness was all enemy to Him, He accomplishes His good deeds in order and succession, and does not all at once take all His enemies for His footstool. For the Father says to Him, to the Lord of us all, 4980 “Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy enemies the footstool of Thy feet.” And this goes on till the last enemy, Death, is overcome by Him. And if we consider what is meant by this subjection to Christ and find an explanation of this mainly from the saying, 4981 “When all things shall have been put under Him, then shall the Son Himself be subjected to Him who put all things under Him,” then we shall see how the conception agrees with the goodness of the God of all, since it is that of the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world. Not all mens sin, however, is taken away by the Lamb of God, not the sin of those who do not grieve and suffer affliction till it be taken away. For thorns are not only fixed but deeply rooted in the hand of every one who is intoxicated by wickedness and has parted with sobriety, as it is said in the Proverbs, 4982 “Thorns grow in the hand of the drunkard,” and what pain they must cause him who has admitted such growth in the substance of his soul, it is hard even to tell. Who has allowed wickedness to establish itself so deeply in his soul as to be a ground full of thorns, he must be cut down by the quick and powerful word of God, which is sharper than a two-edged sword, and which is more caustic than any fire. To such a soul that fire must be sent which finds out thorns, and by its divine virtue stands where they are and does not also burn up the threshing-floors or standing corn. But of the Lamb which takes away the sin of the world and begins to do so by His own death there are several ways, some of which are capable of being clearly understood by most, but others are concealed from most, and are known to those only who are worthy of divine wisdom. Why should we count up all the ways by which we come to believe among men? That is a thing which every one living in the body is able to see for himself. And in the ways in which we believe in these also, sin is taken away; by afflictions and evil spirits and dangerous diseases and grievous sicknesses. And who knows what follows after this? So much as we have said was not unnecessary—we could not neglect the thought which is so clearly connected with that of the words, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,” and had therefore to attend somewhat closely to this part of our subject. This has brought us to see that God convicts some by His wrath and chastens them by His anger, since His love to men is so great that He will not leave any without conviction and chastening; so that we should do what in us lies to be spared such p. 380 conviction and such chastening by the sorest trials.
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