St. Ambrose on Divine Filiation
He who through the Spirit, says S. Paul, mortifies the deeds of the body shall live. Nor is it surprising that he should live, since he who has the Spirit of God, becomes the son of God. Wherefore he is the son of God that he may receive not the spirit of bondage, but the spirit of adoption of sons; to the intent that the Holy Spirit may bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. But this is the testimony of the Holy Spirit, that He it is Who cries in our hearts, Abba Father, as it is written to the Galatians. There is also the great testimony that we are the sons of God; namely that we are heirs of God and
joint heirs with Christ. Now he is joint heir with Him, who is glorified together with Him, and he is glorified together with Him who by suffering for Him suffers together with Him.
5. And in order to encourage us to suffer, he adds that all things which we suffer fall far below and are not worthy to be compared with the recompense of our labours, the reward of future good, which shall be revealed in us, when |229 we shall be formed anew after the Image of God, and shall be worthy to behold His Glory face to face.
6. And to exalt the greatness of this future revelation, he adds that the creation also waits for this revelation of the sons of God, which now is made subject to vanity, not willingly, but in hope, because it hopes for the reward of its ministry from Christ, or else because it also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and received into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, that there may be one liberty of the creation and of the sons of God, when their glory shall have been revealed. But now, so long as this revelation is delayed, the whole creation groans together, looking for the glory of our adoption and redemption, already travailing with that Spirit of salvation, and willing to be delivered from the servitude of vanity.
7. And to this the Apostle has conjoined the groans of the saints, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, for they groan also. Of their own merits they are indeed secure, but since the redemption of the whole body of the Church is still future, they suffer together with it. For seeing that the members of this our body still suffer, shall not the other members, although higher, sympathize with the suffering members of one and the same body?
8. And this, I suppose, is why the Apostle has said that the Son Himself shall be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, for they who still labour are not yet subject, and in these perhaps Christ still thirsts, in these is still hungry, in these is still naked, in that they do not fulfil the word of God, nor put on Christ, Who is the Garment of believers, and the Robe of the faithful. They also in whom He is sick still need medicine, and therefore are not yet subdued, for this subjection is of strength not of weakness : again, in those who are strong and obey the commands of God, the Son of God is subject. But now His travail is greater in those who do not succour those who are toiling, than in those who still require aid themselves. And this is the pious and true meaning of the subjection of the Lord Jesus, Who will subject Himself, to the intent that God might be all in all.
9. We have received the Apostle's meaning, let us now |230 consider who are they that have the first-fruits of the Spirit. With this view let us inquire what is intended under the name of first-fruits or of beginning, Thou shalt not delay, it is said, to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors; further on, The first of the first-fruits of thy lands thou shalt bring into the house of the Lord thy God. First-fruits and tenths are different, first-fruits are of greater merit, an act of pious consecration. And on this account Abel pleased God, for he delayed not to offer his gift, but offered of the first-fruits of his flock. Although some suppose that there is a difference between 14 first-fruits and first-born15, in that on gathering in the crops, the beginning, so to speak, of all kinds in the threshing floor are offered, while the first reaping of the harvest is offered to the Lord; but of this we will speak in another place. But by the offering of the first-fruits, the whole harvest appears to be sanctified, but the first-fruits themselves are the most holy.
10. In like manner the saints are the first-fruits of the Lord, and the chief are the Apostles, for God hath set in the Church first Apostles, who have prophesied many things and preached the Lord Jesus, for they first received Him. Simeon too received Him, and the prophet Zacharias, John his son, Nathanael, in whom there was no guile, who rested under the fig tree, Joseph also who was called just, who buried Him. These are the first-fruits of our faith, nevertheless the nature of other seeds is the same as that of the first-fruits, although in some there is less grace, for God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
11. You have an example in the Lord Jesus Himself. In the resurrection of the dead He is called the first-born from the dead. The Apostle also has called Him the first-fruits; In Christ shall all be made alive, but every man in his own order, Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ's, who have believed in His coming. His body is as truly a body as our own, nevertheless He is called the first-born from the dead, because He rose first; and He is called the first-fruits because He is holier than all the other fruits, and they by union with Him are hallowed , also. He also asthe Image of the invisible God is the |231 Head of those found after that Image; in Him according to His Divinity there is nothing corporeal, nothing temporary; for He is the brightness of His Father's glory, and the express Image of His Person. But in our desire to explain the meaning of first-fruits we have greatly extended the length of our letter.
12. Now the Apostles are our first-fruits, chosen from all the first-fruits of that time; to them it is said, And greater things than these shall ye do,for the Grace of God hath poured itself into them. These, I say, groaned, waiting for the redemption of the whole body, and they still groan, because many are still toiling, who are yet tossing on the sea. Just as, if a man is reaching the higher shore, but the waves still dash up to his middle, he groans and is in travail until he be wholly out of danger. Verily he groans, who still says to us, Who is weak, and I am not weak?
13. We need not then to be perplexed by the words, We, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit the redemption of our body, for the sense is plain, forasmuch as they, having the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan, waiting for the adoption of sons. This adoption of sons is the redemption of the whole body, when he who is to be the son of God by adoption shall see face to face that Divine and Eternal Good; for there is the adoption of sons in the Church of God, when the Spirit cries, Abba, Father, as it is written to the Galatians. But this will be perfected when all shall rise again in incorruption power and glory who are counted worthy to see the Face of God, for then the human race will judge itself to be truly redeemed. And so the Apostle boasts, saying, For we are saved by hope. For hope saves, as also faith, whereof it is said, Thy faith hath saved thee.
14. Therefore the creature which is made subject to vanity not willingly but in hope, is saved by hope; just as Paul too, knowing that to die was gain to him, that he might be freed from the body and be with Christ, remained in the flesh for their sakes whom he wished to win to Christ. Now what is hope but the expectation of things future? Wherefore he says, But the hope that is seen is not hope. |232
For it is not what is seen but what is unseen that is eternal, for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? The things that we see we seem to possess, how then can we hope for that which we already possess? Thus none of those things which we hope for can we see; eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him.
15. Wherefore, if that which is seen cannot be hoped for, it is not well to read as some do, 'for 16 because any one sees a thing he also hopes for it;' unless it may be understood thus, 'for that which any one sees, why does he also hope for or expect it?' For most true it is that we hope for that which we see not, and therefore, although it seem to be absent from us, we still look for it in patience; I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me. And we wait patiently, because the Lord is good unto them that wait for Him. And it seems to agree with this, that through patience He has given it back to us. We wait for the things which we hope for, but see not. For he does much who hopes and looks for those things which are not seen, and endures because he directs his mind to that which is.
16. Now it is well said that hope that is seen is not hope, referring to the power and honour and riches of this world. You may see a man distinguished by his retinue and equipages, but he has not hope in his equipages which are seen. Nor is hope in the firmament of heaven, but in the Lord of heaven. The Chaldaean has not hope in the stars which he watches; nor the rich man in his possessions or the avaricious man in usury; but he hath hope who places his hope in Him Whom he sees not, that is, in the Lord Jesus, Who stands in the midst of us, yet is not seen. Finally, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. |233