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
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



To Thy Grace I Ascribe It (Augustine)

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Many of us have heard the story about Augustine stealing pears when he was a teenager.  Indeed, he stole them not because he was hungry or poor, but simply because he wanted to sin (he “lusted to theive”).  Afterwards Augustine even said that he didn’t even really enjoy the pear but he did enjoy the theft and sin itself.  Only a few pages after he talked about stealing pears he wrote these words in his ConfessionsWhenever we hear the pear story, we should remember these words too!

Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame itself!

What shall I render unto the Lord, that, whilst my memory recalls these things, my soul is not affrighted at them? I will love Thee, O Lord, and thank Thee, and confess unto Thy name; because Thou hast forgiven me these so great and heinous deeds of mine. To Thy grace I ascribe it, and to Thy mercy, that Thou hast melted away my sins as it were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever I have not done of evil; for what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, all I confess to have been forgiven me; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and what by Thy guidance I committed not.

 Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

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

What Mind Can Grasp “I AM”? (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7: St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies Commenting on John 8:24, Augustine had some brilliant reflections on Jesus’ words: Unless you believe that I am [εγω ειμι] you will die in your sins.  Note below how Augustine went back to Exodus 3 to explain Jesus’ words in John 8.  (Side note: this is why non-Christian groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons tend to avoid Augustine):

There is much implied in His only saying “I Am;” for so also had God said to Moses, “I Am who Am.” Who can adequately express what that AM means?

…Perhaps it was too much even for Moses himself, as it is too much for us also, and much more so for us, to understand the meaning of such words, “I am who am;” and, “He who is hath sent me to you.” And supposing that Moses comprehended it, when would those to whom he was sent comprehend it? The Lord therefore put aside what man could not comprehend, and added what he could; for He said also besides, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This thou canst comprehend; for “I am who am,” what mind can comprehend?

…The Lord Jesus Christ, I think, said nothing else by these words, “If ye believe not that I am;” yea, by these words I think He meant nothing else than this, “If ye believe not that I am” God, “ye shall die in your sins.” Well, God be thanked that He said, “If ye believe not,” and did not say, “If ye comprehend not.” For who can comprehend this?

In other words, Jesus is not telling people to comprehened what it means that he is “I AM,” but to believe it!

(The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo, “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John,” in vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, p. 220-221)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Book of Life and Predestination (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume I
Augustine on the Psalms

I like Augustine’s comments on the perseverance of the saints using the biblical reference of the “book of life” (cf. Phil 4:3, Rev. 3:5, etc.):

Brethren, we must not so take it, as that God writeth anyone in the book of life, and blotteth him out. If a man [Pilate] said, “What I have written I have written,” concerning the title where it had been written, “King of the Jews,” (John 19:22) doth God write anyone, and blot him out? He foreknoweth, He hath predestined all before the foundation of the world that are to reign with His Son in life everlasting (Rom. 8:29).  These He hath written down, these same the Book of Life doth contain.

Augustine, Exposition on the Book of the Psalms, Ps. 29:28, NPNF 1.

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

Knowing God and Scripture Apart From the Church? (Augustine)

  In the first section of the first volume of his Systematic Theology, Douglas Kelly makes a great point about how God is known by his Word in the fellowship of believers, in a covenantal context.  He puts it like this: faith is caused by truth, faith is the only appropriate response to truth, and faith arises within a community context.  Later Kelly gives an excellent quote from Augustine to further explain what he means by knowing and learning Scripture in the fellowship of the saints.  Here’s Augustine:

Let us not tempt the one in whom we have placed our trust, or we may be deceived by the enemy’s cunning and perversity and become unwilling even to go to church to hear and learn the gospel, or to read the Biblical text or listen to it being read and preached, preferring to wait until ‘we are caught up into the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body’ (in the words of the apostle) [2 Cor. 12:2-4], and there hear ‘words that cannot be expressed, which a human being may not utter’ or see the Lord Jesus Christ in person and hear the gospel from him rather than from men.

Let us beware of such arrogant and dangerous temptations, and rather reflect that the apostle Paul, no less, though cast to the ground and enlightened by a divine voice from heaven, was sent to a human being to receive the sacrament of baptism and be joined to the church. And Cornelius the centurion, although an angel announced to him that his prayers had been heard and his acts of charity remembered, was nevertheless put under the tuition of Peter not only to receive the sacrament but also to learn what should be the objects of his faith, hope, and love…

All this could certainly have been done through an angel, but the human condition would be wretched indeed if God appeared unwilling to minister his word to human beings through human agency.  It has been said, ‘God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are’: how could that be true if God did not make divine utterances from his human temple but broadcast direct from heaven or through angels the learning that he wished to be passed on to mankind?  Moreover, there would be no way for love, which ties people together in the bonds of unity,  to make souls overflow and as it were intermingle with each other, if human beings learned nothing from other humans. (Augustine: De Doctra Christiania, preface)

I always appreciate the reminder that just like it is unbibical to purposely be a “solo” Christian (Heb 10:25, 1 Jn. 4:21, etc.) it is also unbiblical to purposely avoid the church when learning about God from his word (Heb 13:6, 1 Tim. 3:15, etc).

The above quote by Augustine is found in Kelly’s in Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 25.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

“The Lord Laughed at Me” (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.1: The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work When Augustine, the great African theologian of the early church, first became a leader in the church, he was not prepared.  Using the imagery of a ship’s crew, Augustine said he was appointed to “the second place at the helm” although he “knew not how to handle an oar.”  He said that at the time he thought he knew how to lead in the church, and he had even rebuked the faults of many “sailors” before he learned the nature of their work by experience.  He had criticized other pastors before he became one himself!

Once he started his duties he quickly realized his criticism of other pastors was unfounded and that he himself was ill prepared to be a leader.  He said it was a rebuke of God when he realized his own inadequacy – and it led him to a sorrow that even his friends could not console.  It’s not like Augustine had no idea about the difficulties of the ministry.  He knew of them:

…My experience has made me realize these things [difficulties] much more both in degree and in measure than I had done in merely thinking of them: not that I have now seen any new waves or storms of which I had not previous knowledge by observation, or report, or reading, or meditation; but because I had not known my own skill or strength for avoiding or encountering them, and had estimated it to be of some value instead of none. The Lord, however, laughed at me, and was pleased to show me by actual experience what I am.

Augustine even said that his inadequacy was a source of personal grief:

Moreover, it is true that I did not at any earlier period know how great was my unfitness for the arduous work which now disquiets and crushes my spirit. 

In other words, Augustine thought he could handle the difficulties of the ministry, but quickly realized that his own strength and skill were of no value.  By experience he learned that he wasn’t as strong and skillful as he thought: it was as if God was laughing at Augustine for thinking he could do something on his own that he clearly could not do on his own.  This makes me think of a three-year-old boy taking the shovel from his dad and proclaiming that he can clear the six inches of snow off the driveway by himself.  The dad would chuckle, hand him the shovel, and let him try!

How did Augustine deal with his inadequacy and grief?  He looked to God for mercy and turned to Scripture and to God in prayer:

But if He has done this not in judgment, but in mercy, as I confidently hope even now, when I have learned my infirmity, my duty is to study with diligence all the remedies which the Scriptures contain for such a case as mine, and to make it my business by prayer and reading to secure that my soul be endued with the health and vigour necessary for labours so responsible.

Later in this letter that I’ve been quoting from Augustine asks Bishop Valerius if he could take a sort of study leave or sabbatical to pray and study the Word.  This, he said, would better enable him to face the difficulties of the ministry and make him a better leader.  This letter of Augustine to Valerius is a good one for pastors or future pastors to read and note: even Augustine struggled mightily as a pastor!  He was humbled for thinking he could do it by his own strength and skill.  And he learned from the difficult experience to turn to God in prayer for help and his Word for strength.

You can find this entire letter in the first volume of the Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers’ set – letter 21.4 (Schaff, Philip, ed. The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work. Vol. 1. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI