Fairer Still Is the Maker of Heaven (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.8: Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms Many of us are familiar with the biblical truth that God is good, or benevolent, to all.  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45 NASB).  “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9 NASB).  In his comments on Psalm 86 Augustine reflected on this truth and used it to remind Christians of the greater gift of God to his people:

Think, brethren, and reflect what good things God giveth unto sinners: and learn hence what He keepeth for His own servants. To sinners who blaspheme Him every day He giveth the sky and the earth, He giveth springs, fruits, health, children, wealth, abundance: all these good things none giveth but God.

He who giveth such things to sinners, what thinkest thou He keeps for His faithful ones? Is this to be believed of Him, that He who giveth such things to the bad, keepeth nothing for the good? Nay verily He doth keep, not earth, but heaven for them. Too common a thing perhaps I say when I say heaven; Himself rather, who made the heaven. Fair is heaven, but fairer is the Maker of heaven

The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo,  vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 412.

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

Love Rightly Ordered (Augustine)

When Augustine was commenting on how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful” and married them (Gen. 6:2 NIV), he made a brilliant observation on God-given beauty and love rightly ordered:

And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable Good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately,

Augustine goes on to quote a poem/hymn, which he himself probably wrote:

It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator:

These are Thine, they are good,
because Thou art good who didst create them.
There is in them nothing of ours,
unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things,
and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.”

We might say this is also an exposition of the Bible’s teaching that we should love God first and foremost (Mt. 22:37).  Here’s one more paragraph from Augustine after his poem/hymn:

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me.”

There’s something to read again and think about: virtue is the right order of love.

These quotes are found in Augustine’s City of God, XV.22.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Divine Purpose and Foreknowledge (Augustine)

The Protestant Reformers did not make up their teaching about God’s foreknowledge, sovereignty, and divine purpose.  Here’s Augustine:

“Now God foreknew everything, and therefore could not have been unaware that man would sin.  It follows that all our assertions about the Holy City must take into account God’s foreknowledge and his providential design; we must not advance theories which could not have become matters of knowledge for us, because they had no place in God’s plan.  Man could not upset the divine purpose by his sin, in the sense of compelling God to alter his decision.  For God in his foreknowledge anticipated both results: he knew beforehand how evil the man would become whom God himself had created good; he also knew what good, even so, he would bring out of man’s evil.”

Of course, ultimately the Reformers did not lean on Augustine, but Scripture:

“[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV).

“[Jesus] was handed over…by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge…” (Acts 2:23 NIV).

“The plans of the LORD stand firm forever…” (Ps. 33:11 NIV).

“He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.          No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:35 NIV)

To be sure, there are quite a few other Bible texts that affirm the truth that God is sovereign and in total control of all things.  Nothing surprises him; his counsel will stand and nothing can thwart his plans or purposes.  This is good news for Christians.  Not only do all things come our way by the good and sovereign will of God, but our salvation is also secure because it is part of his sovereign plan in Christ.

The above quote from Augustine is found in City of God, XIV.11.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Suffering: The Wicked and the Righteous (Augustine)

City of God (Modern Library, paperback) I’ve read parts of Augustine’s City of God before, but I’ve recently resolved to finally finish it.  As I sit here in the library of my alma mater – Westminster Seminary in California – I want to share a helpful section of City of God.  It has to do with suffering:

…The patience of God still invites the wicked to penitence, just as God’s chastisement trains the good in patient endurance….

That being so, when the good and the wicked suffer alike, the identity of their sufferings does not mean that there is no difference between them. Though the sufferings are the same, the sufferers remain different. Virtue and vice are not the same, even if they undergo the same torment. The fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw, and clears the grain; and oil is not mistaken for lees because both are forced out by the same press.

In the same way, the violence which assails good men to test them, to cleanse and purify them, effects in the wicked their condemnation, ruin and annihilation. Thus the wicked, under pressure of affliction, execrate God and blaspheme; the good, in the same affliction,offer up prayers and praises. This shows that what matters is the nature of the sufferer, not the nature of the sufferings. Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends. Both the movements are identical.

This quote is found in book 1, chapter 8 of City of God.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Grace Makes Us Lovers of the Law (Augustine)

On Grace and Free Will by [St. Augustine] Here’s Augustine on love, law, grace, predestination, and choice:

Let no one, then, deceive you, my brethren, for we should not love God unless He first loved us. John again gives us the plainest proof of this when he says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law. And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him.

He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. “You have not chosen me,” He says. If, therefore, you have not chosen me, undoubtedly you have not loved me (for how could they choose one whom they did not love?). “But I,” says He, “have chosen you.” And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world? But it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 459–460.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Lord, Save Me From Myself (Augustine)

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Here’s a prayer worth reading (and praying!) a few times!

Oh Lord, this mercy I humbly beg: that whatever you give me up to, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.  If you will give me up to be afflicted, tempted, or reproached, I will patiently sit down and say, ‘It is the Lord; let him do with me what seems good in his own eyes.’  Do anything with me, Lord, lay what burden you will upon me, but please, do not give me up to the ways of my own heart.

Or, in Augustine’s terse words: A me, me salva Domine! (which means something like “Lord, save me from myself!)

The above quote is rephrased from Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997) 50.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Just War (A Summary)

 There are various Christian views on war.  The majority view throughout history dates back to Augustine, who taught there is such a thing as just war.  Much more could be – and has been! – said on this topic, but I like how the just war concept is summarized in An Introduction to Biblical EthicsThe authors list seven points, noting that the first three points take priority.

1) Just Cause.  All unprovoked aggression is condemned.  A war for self-defense and protection (including defense of other vulnerable nations) is morally legitimate.  Following this first criterion alone would eliminate all war and aggression.

2) Just Intent.  The only legitimate intention is to secure a just or fair peace for friend and foe alike, ruling out revenge, conquest, economic gain, or ideological supremacy.

3) Lawful Declaration.  Since the use of military force is the prerogative of governments – not of private individuals or parties within the state – a state of war must be officially declared by a lawful government.

4) Last Resort.  War may be entered into only when reasonable negotiations  and compromise have been tried and have failed.  This does not mean gross injustices continue alongside endless negotiations.  Last resort is a prudential, secondary consideration, as are the remaining criteria.

5) Limited Objectives.  As the goal of just war is peace, war should not be committed to the destruction of another nation’s economy or its political institutions.

6) Limited/Proportionate Means.  The weaponry and the force used should be limited to what is needed to repel the aggression and deter future attacks – that is to say, to secure a just peace.

7) Noncombatant Immunity.  Since war is an official act of government, only those who are officially agents of government may fight, and individuals not actively contributing to the conflict (including POWs, medical personnel and casualties, as well as civilian nonparticipants) should be immune from attack, unless in cases of supreme emergency, as noted above.

Even if one doesn’t agree with every part of this summary, in my view this is helpful way to think of war from a Christian perspective.

You can find the entire discussion in chapter 24 of Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan’s An Introduction to Biblical Ethics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015