Augustine and Love (Oberman)

The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications This is an excellent resource: The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications” by Heiko Oberman.  I just finished reading the chapter that covered mysticism in the medieval church; it was quite helpful.  It’s too detailed to summarize in one blog post, so for now I’ll just quote a section where Oberman summarized Augustine’s view of love.  This is worth thinking about – especially the two different “orbits”.

[Augustine was] a theologian of love. Not only is his great survey of history in ‘De civitate Dei’ (The City of God) shot through with the theme of love, but his ‘Confessiones’ (Confessions) take from the love of God and from God’s love a new definition of the person. Reason and intellect do not place us in the cosmic hierarchy, contrary to what Augustine had learned while studying philosophy, but love. Love is ‘pondus’ (weight), and ‘pondus’ is not a burden but rather gravity, and therefore determines the orbit into which a human being gravitates.

Augustine assumes that there are only two sorts of people, who move in two different orbits. One sort rotates around themselves, the other sort, around God. Both orbits are determined by the love that seeks the center, either by amor sui, self-love, or by amor Dei, the love of God. In order to make the jump from the ‘self-centered’ orbit to the other one, human beings need the help of a sovereign act of God. God alone makes this jump from the old to the new orbit happen—by his grace alone, ‘sola gratia.’

Heiko Augustinus Oberman, The Reformation : Roots and Ramifications (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 82–83.

(A paperback copy of this book is available on Amazon.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

“The Majesty of the Lover” (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In studying for a sermon on God’s love, I found these four excellent points in Francis Turretin’s Institutes – points which I had highlighted around 10 years ago.  This is why I highlight in my books!

These four things in the highest manner commend the love of God towards us:

(1) the majesty of the Lover;
(2) the poverty and unworthiness of the loved;
(3) the worth of Him in whom we are loved;
(4) the multitude and excellence of the gifts which flow out from that love to us.

Turretin then explains each of these four points:

(a) God loves us; He who, constituted in the highest pre-eminence and happiness, does not need us and is not bound to love us; indeed can most justly hate and destroy us if He so willed.
(b) Men are beloved, not only as empty and weak creatures, but as sinners and guilty, rebellious servants, who so far from deserving it, are on the other hand most worthy of hatred and punishment.
(c) He in whom they are beloved is Christ (Eph. 1:5-6), the delight of his heavenly Father and the “express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3), than whom He could give nothing more excellent, nothing dearer, even if He had given the whole universe.
(d) The effects of His love are both many in number and great in value – that is, all the benefits by which salvation is begun in this life and perfected in the other.  Also, what is the crown and sum of all the blessings, the gift of God himself, who imparts himself to us as an object of fruition both in grace and in glory.

You’ll find this paragraph (which I’ve edited slightly) in volume one of Turretin’s Institutes, page 242. 

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

The Bags Around Our Necks (Binning)

 I’ve been studying and preaching through 1 Corinthians 13 (sometimes known as Paul’s hymn of love) and one resource I’ve been using is Hugh Binning’s Christian Love.  It’s not too long, but it is sometimes difficult to read because of the older language.  However, it is worth the effort!  Here’s a section I ran across today as I was looking at the phrase love “always trusts” (NIV):

It is certainly [excessive] love and indulgence to ourselves that makes us aggravate other men’s faults to such a height.  Self-love looks on other men’s failings through a magnifying glass, but she puts her own faults behind her back.

Binning is alluding to one of Aesop’s Fables that explain how all men are born with two bags around their necks: One is full of the faults of others and it hangs on our necks in front of us, under our noses.  The other bag hangs behind us, and it is full of our own faults.  This means, of course, that we always see the faults of others, but it is hard to see our own faults.  This is similar to the “log in the eye” teaching of Jesus in Luke 6.  Here’s more:

[Excessive self-love] can suffer much in herself but nothing in others; and certainly much self-forbearance and indulgence can spare little for others.  But charity is just contrary, she is most rigid on her own behalf, will not pardon herself easily…, and has no indignation but against herself.  Thus she can spare much candor and forbearance for others, and has little or no indignation left behind to consume on others.

Does that make sense?  In other words, if you don’t love someone you will be quick to look for, find, and point out other people’s flaws and sins while minimizing your own.  If I don’t love my neighbor, I will not put up with my neighbor’s faults and sins, but I will easily put up with my own.

However, love is not that way.  If you love someone, you’ll be patient and kind towards them, despite their flaws and sins, and you’ll be more upset with your own sins than theirs.

Indeed, love is patient, love is kind.  …It does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:4-5 NIV).

The above quotes are from Hugh Binning, Christian Love, p. 26-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Wrath, God’s Love, and the Cross (Carson)

Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God God’s love and his wrath are on display throughout the Bible.  I realize “the wrath of God” sounds harsh in many people’s ears, but it clearly is a teaching of the Bible.  It’s a teaching that has to do with the perfect justice of God.  Here’s how Don Carson well explained the love and wrath of God:

“The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in new covenant writings.  Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the new covenant writings.  In other words, both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New.  These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s love?  Look at the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s wrath?  Look at the cross.

Hymn writers have sometimes captured this best,  In Wales Christians sing a nineteenth-century hymn by William Rees:

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p 70-71.

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

Saved by Love (Machen)

What is Faith? Here are some great words from a great book:

“Even before we could love as we ought to love, even before we could do or feel anything aright, we were saved by faith; we were saved by abandoning all confidence in our own thoughts or feelings or actions and by simply allowing ourselves to be saved by God.”

“In one sense, indeed, we were saved by love; that indeed is an even profounder fact than that we were saved by faith.  Yes, we were saved by love, but it was by a greater love than the love in our cold and sinful hearts; we were saved by love, but it was not our love for God but God’s love for us, God’s love for us by which he gave the Lord Jesus to die for us upon the cross.  ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’  That  love alone is the love that saves.  And the means by which it saves is faith.”

“Thus the beginning of the Christian life is not an achievement but an experience; the soul of the man who is saved is not, at the moment of salvation, active, but passive; salvation is the work of God and God alone.”

J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, p. 196-7.

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

Love: Affection and Action

When people think of the word love, most of the time they think of an emotion, feeling, or desire.  If this is all they think of love, it is a very incomplete view of love.  In fact, it might be argued that an emotion alone is not love at all, but something else.  I appreciate how Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan discuss this in their book on biblical ethics.  They have quite a few helpful and biblical things to say about love in this chapter; I can’t summarize it all here.  Instead, I’ll quote just part of a larger section:

“From the Bible’s viewpoint, the choise to act lovingly, not the intensity of the feeling, is the test and ultimate proof of love.  The concept of volitional love overriding affectional love is of paramount importance for we may not be able to control our emotional response.  But by the grace of God we can choose to act lovingly no matter how we feel.”

“So those who claim that this emphasis on will over emotions is dishonest and not being ‘true’ to oneself are mistaken.  To assume it is deceptive if one does not act in conformity with one’s feelings is to reduce personhood to emotion.  Yes, each of us is a person with feelings, but also with the capacity to choose, to honor commitments, to use one’s reason, to consider one’s primary obligations to God.  To be honest to myself means I must be honest to my whole self before God – to act in conformity with his will and my committment to him.”

“To truly know ourselves as humans, John Calvin rightly affirmed, we must first truly know God’s character and his priorities for us.  This is indeed a liberating truth – I can choose to act for the welfare of another no matter how I feel about him or about the action God desires of me.”

“To say that acting lovingly takes precedence over the emotion of love does not mean that bibilical love is exhausted by acting lovingly.  Without the emotion, love can be authentic, but it is not complete.  If we act in love, ordinarily the affection will follow.  Thus one can love in a biblical, active sense, without liking.  In fact, it is required that we act lovingly no matter how we feel.”

Of course there is a lot more to the meaning of love (specifically God’s love shown in giving his Son to save sinners, which the authors do note well). The above section was helpful to me in thinking that we as Christians should not just have an affectional love, but active love that is seen in self-giving, self-sacrificing deeds.

Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan, An Introduction to Biblical Ethics (DownersGrove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 34-35.

Shane Lems