From “Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John” (416)

Yesterday I closed our sermon at this sentence (1 John 3:18-20), which without doubt behooved and does behoove to abide in your heart, seeing it was the last ye heard. “My little children, let us not love only in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Then he goes on, “And herein we know that we are of the truth and we assure our hearts before God. For if our hearts think ill of us, God is greater than our hearts, and God knows all things.” He had said, “Let us not love only in word and in tongue, but in work and in truth…”

Above he had said up to what point charity is perfected: what the Lord says in the gospel, “Greater love than this has no man, that one lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13). This same had the apostle also said, “As he laid down his life for us, we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren,” (1 John 3:16). This is the perfection of charity, and no greater love can be found. But because it is not perfect in all, and we ought not to despair when there is not perfection, know that this love is already born which may be perfected. And of course if born, it must be nourished, and by certain nourishments of its own must be brought unto its proper perfection…

Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his heart of compassion from him, we must ask how the Father’s love dwells in him the love of the Father in him?.. If you shall nourish with the word of God and hope of the life to come, you will come at last unto that perfection, that you shall be ready to lay down your life for your brethren…

“My little children, let us not love only in word and in tongue; but in deed and in truth;” we ask, in what work, in what truth? Can there be a more manifest work than to give to the poor? Many do this of vainglory, not of love. Can there be a greater work than to die for the brethren? This also, many would fain be thought to do, who do it of vainglory to get a [famous] name. It remains, that that man loves his brother, who before God, where God alone sees, assures his own heart, and questions his heart whether he does this indeed for love of the brethren; and his witness is that eye which penetrates the heart, where man cannot look…

In this we know that we are of the truth, when in deed and in truth we love, not only in words and in tongue: and assure our heart before Him… Let your conscience bear you witness that your love is of God. If it be of God, do not wish to display it before men; because neither men’s praises lift you unto heaven, nor their censures put you down from thence. Let God see, who crowns you. Let God be your witness, by whom as judge you are crowned. “Greater is God than our heart, and knows all things…”

Whoever then shall have charity, and have this love before God, where God sees, and the heart being interrogated under righteous examination made to find the root of charity for good fruits to come, that one has confidence with God.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. His 10 sermons on the First Epistle of John were preached in the cathedral at Hippo during his episcopal ministry. His feast day is August 26.