Chrysostom on the Wrath of God

(and also Faith and Works !!)

Chrysostom (c. 347–407) The Gospel of John  – HOMILY XXXI.

“The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life, and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:35-36

saint_john_chrysostom“‘Great’ is shown to be in all things the gain of humility. Thus it is that we have brought arts to perfection, not by learning them all at once from our teachers; it is thus that we have built cities, putting them together slowly, little by little; it is thus that we maintain our life. And marvel not if the thing has so much power in matters pertaining to this life, when in spiritual things one may find that great is the power of this wisdom. For so the Jews were enabled to be delivered from their idolatry, being led on gently and little by little, and hearing from the first nothing sublime concerning either doctrine or life. So after the coming of Christ, when it was the time for higher doctrines, the Apostles brought over all men without at first uttering anything sublime. And so Christ appears to have spoken to most at the beginning, and so John did now, speaking of Him as of some wonderful man, and darkly introducing high matter.

For instance, when commencing he spoke thus: “A man cannot receive anything of himself” (c. 3:27): then after adding a high expression, and saying, “He that cometh from heaven is above all,” he again brings down his discourse to what is lowly, and besides many other things says this, that “God gives not the Spirit by measure.” Then he proceeds to say, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” And after that, knowing that great is the force of punishment, and that the many are not so much led by the promise of good things as by the threat of the terrible, he concludes his discourse with these words; “He that believes on the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.”  Here again he refers the account of punishment to the Father, for he says not “the wrath of the Son,” (yet He is the Judge,) but sets over them the Father, desiring so the more to terrify them.

“Is it then enough,” says one, “to believe on the Son, that one may have eternal life?” By no means. And hear Christ Himself declaring this, and saying, “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21); and the blasphemy against the Spirit is enough of itself to cast a man into hell. But why speak I of a portion of doctrine? Though a man believe rightly on the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, yet if he leads not a right life***, his faith will avail nothing towards his salvation. Therefore when He says, “This is life eternal, that they may know Thee the only true God” (c. 17:3), let us not suppose that the (knowledge) spoken of is sufficient for our salvation; we need besides this a most exact life and conversation. Since though he has said here, “He that believes on the Son has eternal life,” and in the same place something even stronger, (for he weaves his discourse not of blessings only, but of their contraries also, speaking thus: “He that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him”;) yet not even from this do we assert that faith alone is sufficient to salvation. And the directions for living given in many places of the Gospels show this. Therefore he did not say, “This by itself is eternal life,” nor, “He that does but believe on the Son hath eternal life,” but by both expressions he declared this, that the thing doth contain life, yet that if a right conversation follow not, there will follow a heavy punishment. And he did not say, “awaits him,” but, “abides on him,” that is, “shall never remove from him.” For that thou may not think that the “shall not see life,” is a temporary death, but may believe that the punishment is continual, he hath put this expression to show that it rests upon him continually. And this he has done, by these very words forcing them on to Christ. Therefore he gave not the admonition to them in particular, but made it universal, the manner which best might bring them over. For he did not say, “if ye believe,” and, “if ye believe not,” but made his speech general, so that his words might be free from suspicion. And this he has done yet more strongly than Christ. For Christ says, “He that believes not is condemned already,” but John says, “shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” With good cause; for it was a different thing for a man to speak of himself and for another to speak of him. They would have thought that Christ spoke often of these things from self-love, and that he was a boaster; but John was clear from all suspicion. And if at a later time, Christ also used stronger expressions, it was when they had begun to conceive an exalted opinion of Him.”

NOTE *** Chrysostom is simply saying that a right life is evidence of a genuine authentic faith.  “He that believes” is one who has genuine faith, which is demonstrated by their life and actions. The modern controversy between ‘faith and works’ apparently was also a controversy with some in Chrysostom’s day, and should not be. ‘We are justified by faith, but faith is never alone’ for me is a good balanced saying (see my post – Chrysostom on Faith). Even the demons “believe and tremble”(James 2:19) – RAS

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