Trusting God’s Justice When We Can’t Trace It (Augustine)

 In book 20, chapter 2 of City of God, Augustine discusses the difficult reality that sometimes the wicked prosper (Ps. 73:3) while the righteous suffer (cf. Job).  Here are Augustine’s comments on this reality and how it corresponds to God’s justice, which we as his people should trust.

…For not only are the good sometimes unfortunate and the wicked fortunate—a seeming injustice—but, as often as not, bad luck befalls bad men and good luck good men. The whole arrangement makes God’s judgments all the more inscrutable and His ways unsearchable.

Accordingly, even though we cannot understand what kind of divine judgment can positively or even permissively will such inequalities—since God is omnipotent, all-wise, all-just, and in no way weak, rash, or unfair—it is still good for our souls to learn to attach no importance to the good or ill fortune which we see visited without distinction upon the good and the bad. We learn, too, to seek the good things that are meant for the good, and to avoid at all costs the evil things that are fit for the bad.

When, however, we come to that judgment of God the proper name of which is ‘judgment day’ or ‘the day of the Lord,’ we shall see that all His judgments are perfectly just: those reserved for that occasion, all those that He had made from the beginning, and those, too, He is to make between now and then. Then, too, it will be shown plainly how just is that divine decree which makes practically all of God’s judgments lie beyond the present understanding of men’s mind, even though devout men may know by faith that God’s hidden judgments are most surely just.

 Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, vol. 24, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 252–253.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Plan of Salvation (Hodge)

Hodge ST

I always appreciate Charles Hodge’s clear explanation of Christian doctrine and teaching.  I was recently reading volume two of his Systematic Theology – specifically his discussion of God’s sovereign plan of salvation.  After talking about other views, Hodge mentions the Augustinian view.  This is, of course, the view Hodge takes.  After he mentions this view he spends some time explaining it based on the sovereignty of God and the various Scriptures that talk about God’s great plan of salvation.  Here’s Hodge:

The Augustinian scheme includes the following points:
(1.) That the glory of God, or the manifestation of his perfections, is the highest and ultimate end of all things.
(2.) For that end God purposed the creation of the universe, and the whole plan of providence and redemption.
(3.) That He placed man in a state of probation, making Adam, their first parent, their head and representative.
(4.) That the fall of Adam brought all his posterity into a state of condemnation, sin, and misery, from which they are utterly unable to deliver themselves.
(5.) From the mass of fallen men God elected a number innumerable to eternal life, and left the rest of mankind to the just recompense of their sins.
(6.) That the ground of this election is not the foresight of anything in the one class to distinguish them favourably from the members of the other class, but the good pleasure of God.
(7.) That for the salvation of those thus chosen to eternal life, God gave his own Son, to become man, and to obey and suffer for his people, thus making a full satisfaction for sin and bringing in everlasting righteousness, rendering the ultimate salvation of the elect absolutely certain.
(8.) That while the Holy Spirit, in his common operations, is present with every man, so long as he lives, restraining evil and exciting good, his certainly efficacious and saving power is exercised only in behalf of the elect.
(9.) That all those whom God has thus chosen to life, and for whom Christ specially gave Himself in the covenant of redemption, shall certainly… be brought to the knowledge of the truth, to the exercise of faith, and to perseverance in holy living unto the end.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 333.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

“His Mercy Preceded Them” (Augustine on Election)

 The quote below is an outstanding section of Augustine’s “Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints.”  This selection is a little longer than I usually post and it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to read, but I’d encourage you to work through it.  I’m sure you can handle it – it’s for sure worth the effort!  Notice how Augustine explains what we now call “unconditional election” using John 15:16, Ephesians 1:4, and James 2:5:

Let us, then, understand the calling whereby they become elected,—not those who are elected because they have believed, but who are elected that they may believe. For the Lord Himself also sufficiently explains this calling when He says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For if they had been elected because they had believed, they themselves would certainly have first chosen Him by believing in Him, so that they should deserve to be elected.

But He takes away this supposition altogether when He says “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” And yet they themselves, beyond a doubt, chose Him when they believed on Him. Whence it is not for any other reason that He says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” than because they did not choose Him that He should choose them, but He chose them that they might choose Him; because His mercy preceded them according to grace, not according to debt.

Therefore He chose them out of the word while He was wearing flesh, but as those who were already chosen in Himself before the foundation of the world. This is the changeless truth concerning predestination and grace. For what is it that the apostle says, “As He hath chosen us in Himself before the foundation of the world”? And assuredly, if this were said because God foreknew that they would believe, not because He Himself would make them believers, the Son is speaking against such a foreknowledge as that when He says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you;” when God should rather have foreknown this very thing, that they themselves would have chosen Him, so that they might deserve to be chosen by Him.

Therefore they were elected before the foundation of the world with that predestination in which God foreknew what He Himself would do; but they were elected out of the world with that calling whereby God fulfilled that which He predestinated. For whom He predestinated, them He also called, with that calling, to wit, which is according to the purpose. Not others, therefore, but those whom He predestinated, them He also called; nor other, but those whom He so called, them He also justified; nor others, but those whom He predestinated, called, and justified, them He also glorified; assuredly to that end which has no end.

Therefore God elected believers; but He chose them that they might be so, not because they were already so. The Apostle James says: “Has not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love Him?” By choosing them, therefore, He makes them rich in faith, as He makes them heirs of the kingdom; because He is rightly said to choose that in them, in order to make which in them He chose them. I ask, who can hear the Lord saying, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” and can dare to say that men believe in order to be elected, when they are rather elected to believe; lest against the judgment of truth they be found to have first chosen Christ to whom Christ says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you”?

 Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 514–515.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Riddle or Enigma of Man (Bavinck)

The Wonderful Works of God by Hermann Bavinck Cover Image. Westminster Seminary Press. Here’s a great excerpt from the first chapter in Bavinck’s Our Reasonable Faith (aka The Wonderful Works of God or Magnalia Dei). I really like how Bavinck integrates Augustine and Pascal in his biblical reflections:

The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest until it rests in his Father’s heart. Hence all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek Him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and the holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15). But they do seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him. They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do without Him. They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.

In this, as Pascal so profoundly pointed out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man. He longs for truth and is false by nature. He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another. He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment. He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature. He is a born son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land. He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). He is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when he awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).

Science cannot explain this contradiction in man. It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness. It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall. But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed. Man is an enigma whose solution can he found only in God.

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, p. 22-23.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rightly Ordered Love (Keller)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical I’m very much enjoying Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God.  Here’s a section I read this  morning that really resonated with me since Keller was discussing Augustine’s view of love rightly ordered:

You harm yourself when you love anything more than God.  How does this work? If you love your children more than you love God, you will essentially rest your need for significance and security in them.  You will need too much for them to succeed, be happy, and love you. That will either drive them away or crush them under the weight of your expectations, because they will be the ultimate source of your happiness, and no human being can measure up to that.  If instead you love your spouse or romantic partner more than God, the same things occur. If you love your work and career more than God, you will necessarily also love them more than your family, your community, and your own health, and so that will lead to physical and relational breakdown and often, as we saw above, to social injustice.

If you love anything more than God, you harm the object of your love, you harm yourself, you harm the world around you, and you end up deeply dissatisfied and discontent.  The most famous modern expression of Augustine’s view was the ending of [C. S.] Lewis’s radio talk [mentioned earlier].

‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desires: well, there is such a thing as seeks.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.’

The Augustinian analysis does justice to our experience.  As we saw, the evolutionary explanation of our perennial discontent fails to account for it.  The idea that ‘most people are basically happy’ trivializes it, but it is not trivial at all.  Some have, as it were, sought to fill the inner emptiness with billions of dollars and virtually unchecked power to gratify their impulses and appetites.  Yet the testimony of the ages is that even goods on this scale cannot fill the vacuum.  That is powerful evidence that the cavern in our soul is indeed infinitely deep.

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 91

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Ask Creation! (Augustine)

 In the opening comments of Augustine’s sermon on John 14:6 he noted that some wise philosophers had some sort of knowledge of God.  He said that they saw the Truth from afar, but because of their errors they didn’t know how to attain the Truth or come to possess it.  Augustine based his statements on Romans 1:18ff, explaining that people “saw (as far as can be seen by man) the Creator by means of the creature, the Worker by His work, [and] the Framer of the world by the world.”

The Apostle put it this way: “For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”  Augustine commented,

Ask the world, the beauty of the heaven, the brilliancy and ordering of the stars, the sun, that sufficeth for the day, the moon, the solace of the night; ask the earth fruitful in herbs, and trees, full of animals, adorned with men; ask the sea, with how great and what kind of fishes filled; ask the air, with how great birds stocked; ask all things, and see if they do not as if it were by a language of their own make answer to thee, “God made us.” These things have illustrious philosophers sought out, and by the art have come to know the Artificer.

What then? Why is the wrath of God revealed against this ungodliness? “Because they detain the truth in unrighteousness?” Let him come, let him show how. For how they came to know Him, he hath said already. “The invisible things of Him,” that is God, “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal Power also and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

They are the Apostle’s words, not mine: “And their foolish heart was darkened; for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” What by curious search they found, by pride they lost. “Professing themselves to be wise,” attributing, that is, the gift of God to themselves, “they became fools.” They are the Apostle’s words, I say; “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

Augustine, NPNF 1.6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Our Great Physician (Augustine, Rutherford, Hodge)

Quaint Sermons of Samuel Rutherford

One theme in Scripture that beautifully describes our Lord is the fact that he is the great physician. In Exodus 15 Yahweh is called the healer. The Psalms talk about God binding up the brokenhearted while Isaiah says that the Messiah heals us by his wounds. Jesus himself said that the sick are people who need a physician. He brings healing, wholeness, and health to our souls by his atoning work on the cross for us. It also has much to do with the free offer of the gospel. Here are some comments on this theme from some Christian theologians from the past:

Have mercy on me, O Lord! Alas for me! Behold, I do not hide my wounds: Thou art the Physician, I am a sick man; Thou art merciful, I am a miserable man. (Augustine, Confessions)

Lord ready to forgive all such as come to Him in humility, He is a physician who will take sick folks in hand to heal them who have no money to give for their cure. He is indeed the poor man’s physician. He seeks no more of us, but only to tell Him that we are sick.

Samuel Rutherford, Quaint Sermons of Samuel Rutherford (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1885), 335.

Christ is not only the only physician, and one able to heal with certainty all our maladies, but he is accessible to every one and at all times. It is not any one form of spiritual disease, or any one degree of it, but all forms and all degrees. Any one in the last stage of spiritual death may come to him with the certainty of being received and cured. He demands no conditions. He asks no terms. He requires no preparation, and will receive no recompense.

Charles Hodge, Princeton Sermons (London; Edinburgh; New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1879), 58.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015