Cyprian of Carthage: He Previously Warned Us

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Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Luke 21:31

“Although in very many of you, dearly beloved brethren, there is a steadfast mind and a firm faith, and a devoted spirit that is not disturbed at the frequency of this present mortality, but, like a strong and stable rock, rather shatters the turbulent onsets of the world and the raging waves of time, while it is not itself shattered, and is not overcome but tried by these temptations; yet because I observe that among the people some, either through weakness of mind, or through decay of faith, or through the sweetness of this worldly life, or through the softness of their sex, or what is of still greater account, through error from the truth, are standing less steadily, and are not exerting the divine and unvanquished vigor of their heart, the matter may not be disguised nor kept in silence, but as far as my feeble powers suffice with my full strength, and with a discourse gathered from the Lord’s lessons, the slothfulness of a luxurious disposition must be restrained, and he who has begun to be already a man of God and of Christ, must be found worthy of God and of Christ.

For he who wars for God, dearest brethren, ought to acknowledge himself as one who, placed in the heavenly camp, already hopes for divine things, so that we may have no trembling at the storms and whirlwinds of the world, and no disturbance, since the Lord had foretold that these would come. With the exhortation of His foreseeing word, instructing, and teaching, and preparing, and strengthening the people of His Church for all endurance of things to come, He predicted and said that wars, and famines, and earthquakes, and pestilences would arise in each place; and lest an unexpected and new dread of mischiefs should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the last times. Behold, the very things occur which were spoken; and since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, “But when ye see all these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is at hand.” 

The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world; already heavenly things are taking the place of earthly, and great things of small, and eternal things of things that fade away. What room is there here for anxiety and solicitude? Who, in the midst of these things, is trembling and sad, except he who is without hope and faith? For it is for him to fear death who is not willing to go to Christ. It is for him to be unwilling to go to Christ who does not believe that he is about to reign with Christ.”

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, writing during the plague in North Africa (c. 251) in Treatise VII, On the Mortality, 1-2, in Treatises in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325, Volume 5 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899) 469.

These are complex, challenging times. Thankfully, “He previously warned us” that in such times, the kingdom or the reign of God is near. What does this mean? In plain terms, it means God has gotten the world’s attention.

Only weeks, even days ago, people thought they were in charge of their lives, their futures. I don’t exclude myself but count myself among such people. We plan as though we are in control. We are not.

Moments like these become defining moments if we allow “faith and hope” to guide us toward our true home, rather than “anxiety and solicitude” reveal our intoxication with “the sweetness of this worldly life.”

While I hear ministry blokes calling for social distancing to avoid plague outbreaks and overcrowding of medical facilities, what I am not hearing is that our lives must be regarded as less important than our neighbors.

Most messages sound like advice on how to survive in this present world. I believe the reason Jesus warned us that such times would come because He wants God wants us to prepare for the next.

Was the world passing away in the days of Cyprian? It obviously did not pass away in the middle of the third century. So what does this expression mean and why does it matter for us in these difficult times?

The bishop wanted people to grasp the fact that Jesus told us that this present existence is temporary. It’s the wrong thing to live for. I echo this. It’s why we must keep living, giving, serving, and loving generously.

We have forgotten that “perpetual gladness”¬†awaits us. God forgive us. We have gotten too comfortable here. Lose that feeling. Now, the kingdom of God is near. Come Lord Jesus. Let us give Him our attention and allegiance.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.