Exhortation to Baptism, Part 2

Part 1


Are you young? secure your youth against vice, by the restraint which baptism imposes. Has the vigor of life passed away? Do not neglect the necessary provision for your journey: do not lose your protection, do not consider the eleventh hour, as if it were the first; since even he who is beginning life, ought to have death before his eyes. If a physician should promise you, by certain arts and devices, to change you from an old to a young man, would you not eagerly desire the day to arrive on which you would find your youthful vigor restored? Nevertheless, while baptism promises to restore to her pristine vigor your soul, which your iniquities have brought to decrepitude, and covered with wrinkles and defilements, you despise your benefactor, instead of hastening to receive the proffered boon. Are you without any solicitude to witness the miraculous change which is promised—how one grown old, and wasted away by corrupting passions, can bud forth anew, and blossom, and attain to the true bloom of youth? Baptism is the ransom of captives, the remission of debts, the death of sin, the regeneration of the soul, the robe of light, the seal which cannot be broken, the chariot to heaven, the means to attain the kingdom, the gift of adoption. Do you think that pleasure is preferable to these and such like blessings? I know the cause of your delay, although you cloak it with various pretexts. The things themselves cry out, although you are silent. “Allow me to use the flesh for shameful enjoyments, to wallow in the mire of pleasures, to dip my hands in blood, to plunder the property of others, to act deceitfully, to perjure, to lie; and then I shall receive baptism, when I shall cease from sin.” If sin is good, persevere in it to the end. If it is hurtful to the sinner, why do you continue in pernicious pursuits? No one that wishes to get rid of bile should increase it by hurtful and intemperate indulgence; for the body must be cleared of what injures it, and nothing done to increase the power of disease. A ship keeps above water as long as it can bear the weight of its cargo; when overloaded it sinks.1 You should dread lest the same happen to you, and that your sins being exceedingly great, you suffer shipwreck, before you reach the hoped-for haven. Does not God see all that is done? Does He not perceive your secret thoughts? Or does He co-operate in your iniquities? “You thought unjustly,” He says, “that I shall be like to you.” When you seek the friendship of a mortal man, you attract him by kind offices, saying and doing such things as you know will please him. But wishing to be united with God, and hoping to be adopted as a son, while you do things hateful to God, and dishonor Him by the transgression of His law, do you imagine to obtain His friendship by the things which are particularly offensive to Him? Take care, lest multiplying evils in the hope of being ransomed, you increase sin, and miss pardon. “God is not mocked!” Do not trade away grace. Pleasure is the devil’s hook, dragging us to ruin: pleasure is the mother of sin: and sin is the center of death. Pleasure is the food of the everlasting worm; for a while its enjoyment delights, but its fruits are more bitter than gall. Delay is equivalent to saying: ‘Let sin first reign in me: afterwards the Lord shall reign. I will yield my members as instruments of iniquity to sin; afterwards I shall present them as instruments of justice to God.’ Thus also Cain offered up sacrifices, reserving the best things for his own enjoyment, and giving those of an inferior kind to God, the Creator and Benefactor. Because you are strong, you waste your youth in sin. When your limbs are worn out, then you will offer them to God, because you can no longer use them, but must lie by, their vigor being destroyed by inveterate disease. Continence in old age is not strictly continence, but incapacity of indulgence. A dead man is not crowned; no man is just merely because unable to commit wrong. Whilst you have strength, subject sin to reason, for virtue consists in this, to decline from evil and do good. Mere cessation from evil of itself is worthy neither of praise nor of censure. If, on account of advanced age, you cease to do evil, it is the consequence of infirmity. We praise such as are good from choice, and such as necessity withdraws from sin. Moreover, who has marked out for you the limit of life? Who has defined for you the length of old age? Who is the surety on whom you rely for what is to happen to you? Do you not see infants snatched away, and others in the age of manhood carried off? Life has no fixed boundary. Why do you await that baptism should be for you as a gift brought by a fever? Will you wait until you are unable to utter the saving words, and scarcely to hear them distinctly, your malady having its seat in your head? You will not be able to raise your hands to heaven, or to stand on your feet, or to bend your knee in adoration, or to receive suitable instruction, or to confess accurately, or to enter into covenant with God, or to renounce the enemy; probably not even to follow the sacred minister in the mystic rites; so that the bystanders may doubt whether you perceive the grace, or are unconscious of what is done; and if even you do receive the grace consciously, you have but the talent, without the increase.

Imitate the eunuch. He found an instructor on the road, and he did not spurn instruction; but although he was a rich man, he caused the poor man to mount into his chariot: a grand and splendid courtier placed at his side a private individual, on whom others would look with contempt. And when he had learned the gospel of the kingdom, he embraced the faith with his heart, and did not delay to receive the seal of the Spirit. For when they drew nigh to a stream, “behold,” he says, “here is water,” thus showing his great joy. Behold what is required—what prevents me from being baptized? Where the will is ready, there is no obstacle: for He that calls us, loves mankind, the minister is at hand, and the grace is abundant. Let the desire be sincere, and every obstacle will vanish. There is only one to hinder us, he who blocks up the path of salvation, but whom by prudence we can overcome. He causes us to tarry; let us rise to the work. He deludes us by vain promises; let us not be ignorant of his devices. For does he not suggest to commit sin to-day, and persuade us to defer justice till the morrow? Wherefore the Lord, to defeat his perverse suggestions, says to us, “Today, if you hear my voice.” He says: today for me: tomorrow for God. The Lord cries out: “To-day hear my voice.” mark the enemy—he does not dare counsel us utterly to abandon God, (for he knows that this were shocking to Christians,)2 but by fraudulent stratagems he attempts to effect his purpose. He is cunning in evil doing: he perceives that we live for the present time, and all our actions regard it. Stealing from us, then, artfully today, he leaves us to hope for tomorrow. Then when the morrow comes, the wicked distributor of time appears again, claiming the day for himself, and leaving the morrow to the Lord: and thus perpetually, by using the bait of pleasure to secure for himself the present time, and proposing the future to our hopes, he takes us out of life by surprise.

I once witnessed a stratagem of a bird. Her young ones being easy to be taken, she threw herself before them, as a ready prey to the fowlers, and fluttering in view of them, she neither could be caught, nor yet did she leave them without hope of catching her: and having in various ways deluded their expectations, keeping them intent on her, and afforded to her young ones the chance of flight, at length she herself flew away. Fear lest you also be deceived in like manner, since you prefer uncertain hope to the certain opportunity of present good. Come, then, at once, to me: devote yourself entirely to the Lord—give in your name, be enrolled in the list of the church. The soldier’s name is enrolled: the champion enters on the combat, after his name has been inscribed on the lists; a naturalized citizen is registered on the city books. By all these titles you are bound to give in your name, as a soldier of Christ, a champion of piety, and one who aspires to citizenship in heaven. Have it inscribed on this book, that it may be inscribed above. Learn, be instructed in the evangelical discipline—restraint of the eyes, government of the tongue, the subduing of the body, lowliness of mind, purity of heart, annihilation of pride. When constrained to do any thing, add cheerfully something to what is exacted: When despoiled of your property, do not have recourse to litigation, but repay hatred by love. When persecuted, forbear, when insulted, entreat. Be dead to sin, be crucified together with Christ, fix your whole affection on the Lord. But these things are difficul—what good thing is easy? Who ever raised a trophy while asleep; who ever, while indulging in luxury and music, was adorned with the crowns of valor? No one without running can gain the prize; brave struggles merit glory, combats win crowns. “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.” But the beatitude of the heavenly kingdom succeeds these tribulation—while the pain and sorrow of hell follow the labors of sin. If any one consider it attentively, he will find that not even the works of the devil are performed by the workers of iniquity without toil. What exertion does continence require? The voluptuous man, on the contrary, is exhausted by indulgence. Does continence diminish our strength in a like degree as detestable and unbridled passion wastes it away? Sleepless nights are, indeed, passed by those who devote themselves to vigils and prayers; but how much more wearisome are the nights of such as are wakeful for iniquity? The fear of detection, and the anxiety for indulgence, utterly take away all rest. If, fleeing the narrow path which leads to salvation, you pursue the broad way of sin, I fear lest continuing on it to the end, you come to an inn suitable to the road.

But you will say, the treasure is hard to be guarded.3 Be vigilant, then, brother; you have aids, if you will— prayer as a night sentinel, fasting a house guard, psalmody a guide of your soul. Take these along with you: they will keep watch with you, to guard your precious treasures. Tell me, which is it better to be rich, and anxiously to guard our wealth, or not to have any thing to preserve? No one, through fear of being despoiled of his property, abandons it altogether. If men in each of their pursuits considered the misfortunes that may ensue, all human enterprise would cease. Agriculture is liable to the failure of the crops: shipwreck may defeat commerce: widowhood may soon follow marriage: orphanhood may prevent the education of children. We, however, embark in each undertaking, cherishing the fairest hopes, and committing the realizing of them to God, who regulates all things. But you profess to venerate holiness, while in reality you continue among the reprobate. See, lest you hereafter repent of evil counsels, when your repentance may be of no avail. Let the example of the virgins serve as an admonition. Not having oil in their lamps, when they had to enter with the bridegroom into the bridal chamber, they perceived that they were without the necessary provision. Wherefore the Scripture styled them foolish, because, in going about to purchase, having spent the time in which the oil was wanted, they were, contrary to their expectations, shut out from the wedding. Take care, lest putting off from year to year, from month to month, from day to day, and not taking with you oil to nourish your lamp, the day at length arrive to which you do not look forward, when it will be impossible to live any longer. There will be distress on all sides, and inconsolable affliction, the physicians having tried every remedy to no purpose, and your friends having lost hope. Thy breathing will be dry and difficult: a violent fever will burn and inflame your interior: you will heave deep sighs, and find no sympathy. You will utter something in low and feeble accents, and no one will hear you: everything uttered by you will be considered raving. Who will give you baptism then? Who will remind you of it, when you will be plunged in deep lethargy? Thy relatives are disheartened, strangers care not; the friend hesitates to remind you, fearing to disturb you; or perhaps even the physician deceives you, and you have not lost hope, being deceived by the natural love of life. It is night, and there is no attendant at hand—there is no one to baptize you. Death is impending: the demons seek to carry you off. Who will rescue you? God, whom you have spurned? But He will hear you—forsooth you now do hearken to Him! Will He give you a respite? You have made so good use of the time already given you!

Let no one deceive himself by vain words, for sudden destruction will rush upon you, and a storm of vengeance will overwhelm you. The angel sorrowful will come, and will force and drag away precipitately your soul, bound fast in sin, attached strongly to the things of life, and mourning without power of utterance, the organ of lamentation being closed. O! How you will be ready to tear yourself in pieces! How you will sigh! In vain you will repent for your omissions, in compliance with evil suggestions, when you shall see the joy of the just, at the splendid distribution of divine gifts, and the sorrow of sinners in profound darkness. What will you say, then, in the anguish of your heart? Alas! that I have neglected to cast away this heavy load of sin, when it was so easy to rid myself of it, and that I have drawn down on me this weight of woes! Alas! that I washed not away my stains, but remained defiled by sin! I should have been now with the angels of God! I should have been enjoying the delights of heaven. O! Perverse counsels. For the temporary joy of sin, I am tormented for eternity! for the pleasure of the flesh, I am delivered over to fire! The judgment of God is just. I was called; and did not obey, I was instructed; and I did not pay attention; they besought me; and I scoffed at them. Such are the reflections you will make, bewailing your lot, if you be snatched away without baptism. O! Man, either fear hell, or aim at the kingdom. Do not disregard the call. Do not say: Hold me excused, for this or that reason. There can be no semblance of excuse. I am moved to tears, when I reflect that you prefer shameful actions to the great glory of God, and clinging to sin, you deprive yourself of the promised blessings, so that you may not see the good things of the heavenly Jerusalem. There are myriads of angels, the church of the first born, the thrones of Apostles, the chairs of prophets, the scepters of patriarchs, the crowns of martyrs, the choirs of just. Conceive the desire to be enrolled with them, being washed, and sanctified by the gift of Christ, to whom be glory and power for endless ages. Amen.”

St. Basil the Great
Translation by Francis Patrick Kenrick



1 καταβαπτίζεί.

2 St. Basil applies the term here to catechumens, persons professing faith in Christ, but not yet baptized.

3 The dread of losing baptismal grace induced many to delay being baptized.

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