Category Archives: Augustine
Here’s a very brief bit from Augustine’s Confessions (2.2.2), as it has been translated into English over the years. The striking language used to describe his adolescent memories make the passage especially illuminating to see how different translators approach Augustine’s classic:
Pilkington: “Out of the dark concupiscence of the flesh and the effervescence of youth exhalations came forth which obscured and overcast my heart, so that I was unable to discern pure affection from unholy desire.”
Outler: “Instead, the mists of passion steamed up out of the puddly concupiscence of the flesh, and the hot imagination of puberty, and they so obscured and overcast my heart that I was unable to distinguish pure affection from unholy desire.”
Chadwick: “Clouds of muddy carnal concupiscence filled the air. The bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love’s serenity and lust’s darkness.”
Pusey: “Out of the muddy concupiscence of the flesh, and the bubblings of youth, mist fumed up which beclouded and overcast my heart, that I could not discern the clear brightness of love from the fog of lustfulness.”
Pine-Coffin: “Bodily desire, like a morass, and adolescent sex welling up within me exuded mists which clouded over and obscured my heart, so that I could not distinguish the clear light of true love from the murk of lust.”
Wills: “Instead of affection’s landmarks drawn in light, earth-murks drowned in lust – and my erupting sexuality – breathed mephitic vapors over the boundary, to cloud and blind my heart in clouds and fog, erasing the difference between love’s quietness and the drivenness of dark impulse.”
Ryan: “Clouds arose from the slimy desires of the flesh and from youth’s seething spring. They clouded over and darkened my soul, so that I could not distinguish the calm light of chaste love from the fog of lust.”
Boulding: “From the mud of my fleshly desires and my erupting puberty belched out murky clouds that obscured and darkened my heart until I could not distinguish the calm light of love from the fog of lust.”
Myself, I prefer reading Boulding’s translation.
Augustine defined pride as the creature’s refusal to submit to God. Pride was present at the fall of Satan when he sought to escape God’s authority just as pride was present in the fall of Adam and Eve who sought to escape God’s authority by becoming self-gods (Gen 3:5). Pride is an attempted escape from God — and that’s futile. “For the dominion of the Almighty cannot be eluded; and he who will not piously submit himself to things as they are, proudly feigns, and mocks himself with a state of things that does not exist” (City of God, 11.13). God is, thereby making it impossible to live separate from His presence or authority. Thus Satan is forever caught in the vortex of self-mockery, living only for himself and yet forever unable to escape God’s authority and sovereign influence. Therefore, Augustine says, the life of pride is a life of self-destructive fakery, an entrapment to a false and self-created matrix of twisted un-reality. “To exist in himself, that is, to be his own satisfaction after abandoning God, is not quite to become a nonentity, but approximate to that” (ibid 14.13.1). Pride turns a man inward to find his purpose, it makes him feed on himself in the search for satisfaction, pride folds the soul over onto itself, shrivels it, causes the soul to fade and then to nearly disappear like Tolkien’s Nazgûl. The life of pride is a living lie and entrapment to self-mockery. Oh dear God help us! “Who can unravel that twisted and tangled knottiness? It is foul. I hate to reflect on it. I hate to look on it. But thee do I long for” (Confessions 3.8.16). Our only solution is to be found by fixing our eyes on the humble One and by washing in the divine blood that flows from God’s self-humbling (Trinity, 4.2.4).
“The Abyss of the human conscience lies naked to your eyes, O Lord, so would anything in me be secret even if I were unwilling to confess to you? I would be hiding you from myself, but not myself from you.”
–Augustine, The Confessions, (Vintage, 1998), 197.
Speaking of what to do with ancient Pagan literature, here was Augustine’s take:
Moreover, if those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it.
For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves were not making a good use of; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them.
Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils.
These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also—that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life—we must take and turn to a Christian use.
—Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, II, 60.
Newly released edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is devoted to the study of the early church preachers and writers (patrology). Nick Needham, a gifted church historian, publishes a fascinating article on why we need to read Augustine today. In part he writes,
“Augustine wrestles endlessly with the most fundamental questions of existence. What can the human mind truly know? What is God? What is truth? What is beauty? What is time? What is history? What is the soul? What is memory? What is faith? What is reason? What is the relationship between faith and reason? What is justice? What is human destiny? What are the proper limits of political action? Where does evil come from? How can we reconcile evil and suffering with a belief in a good and almighty God? Augustine sets the example par excellence of a Christian thinker determined to view the whole of life in the light of his faith, rather than give a little private corner of it to Christ, leaving the rest to be squeezed into the mold of contemporary non-Christian culture.”
-Nick Needham in the journal article, “Augustine of Hippo: The Relevance of His Life and Thought Today.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (vol. 12, No. 2, Summer 2008 ) p. 39. [download the article as PDF here].
Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar
In his exposition of Psalm 80, Augustine defines idolatry as the inability to break from “earthbound thoughts.” His understanding of idolatry stretches to encompass a communion of idolaters—of “pagans” and “heretics,” of both the polytheistic man clutching an armful of gods, and the man who identifies himself as a Christian yet whose so-called faith does not extend beyond what is seen. For Augustine, the link here between the “pagan” and the “heretic” is a paralleled inability to interpret this world by the eternal hope and promise in Christ. The antithesis of idolatry, for Augustine, is not to gain more “spirituality,” but to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Augustine’s understanding of idolatry must surely have been shocking, especially to the professing Christians who were forced to stop and ask themselves a simple question: Is my religion based upon anything more than “earthbound thoughts”?
The echo of Augustine’s exhortation—delivered almost 1600 years ago—continues to be an important in light of various influences (like theological liberalism) where it’s not uncommon to hear Christianity described in words that carry little more significance than “earthbound thoughts.” Talk of heaven and talk of hell—both used by Christ as motivating factors for decisions in this life—can too easily become unpopular themes in contemporary books and sermons. And too frequently they are not part of our thinking as individual Christians.
Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy
I was reminded of Augustine’s challenge to the “communion of idolaters” when I saw Reformation Heritage Book’s new title, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Here Bonar models for us how to interpret the difficult circumstances of our life on earth in light of the eternal promises and purposes of God.
Let me briefly outline the content of the book, and provide an “above-minded” excerpt at the end.
Night of Weeping
In the first half of the book, Bonar explains the nature of God’s discipline towards his children. God disciplines his children out of his eternal character—his love, wisdom, faithfulness, and power. This discipline is a training of the mind, will, heart, and conscience. God uses bodily sickness, bereavement, and adversity as he sets to work refining, sifting, pruning, and polishing. During this discipline our comforts come in several forms—Jesus weeps with us as we partake of his suffering, he reassures us in his word that all things work together for our good, he pours out special grace in every trial, he uses our afflictions as an opportunity to glorify God, he makes us useful here on earth, he supplies the means of mortifying sin, and he provides the Holy Spirit to comfort us.
In our age, which sometimes teeters on an overdose of “temporal spirituality,” the eternal spirituality and glory we are being prepared for can be easily forgotten. Life in Christ is preparation for something greater—”the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Bonar calls us to pay attention to the suffering and trials of this life because God is at work in all of the trials and struggles of this life, to prepare us for something greater, more gracious, and more glorious.
Simply stated, our trials are God’s means of purifying our desires and preparing us for the “pleasures forevermore” awaiting those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
Morning of Joy
The second half of the book details these eternally glorious promises of God. God disciplines us now, to prepare us eternally. This connection is important as we fend of the encroaching idolatry in our own hearts. Throughout the book, Bonar encourages us to look beyond the circumstances in life and to the eternal weight of glory. Here is a lengthy excerpt from chapter 12, “The Glory.”
In those vast blocks of unquarried rock what various forms are lying concealed! What shapes of statuary or architecture are there! Yet they have no history. They can have none. They are but parts of a hideous block, in which not one line or curve of beauty is visible. But the noise of hammers is heard. Man lifts up his tool. A single block is severed. Again he lifts up his tool, and it begins to assume a form; till, as stroke after stroke falls on it, and touch after touch smooths and shapes it, the perfect image of the human form is seen, and it seems as if the hand of the artist had only been employed in unwrapping the stony folds from that fair form, and awakening it from the slumber of its marble tomb. From the moment that the chisel touched that piece of rock its history began.
Such is the case of a saint. From the moment that the hand of the Spirit is laid on him to begin the process of separation, from that moment his history begins. He then receives a conscious, outstanding personality, that fits him for having a history—a history entirely marvelous; a history whose pages are both written and read in heaven; a history which in its divine brightness spreads over eternity. His true dignity now commences. He is fit to take a place in history. Each event in his life becomes worthy of a record. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” …
“The wise shall inherit glory” (Prov. 3:35). “The saints shall be joyful in glory” (Ps. 149:5). They are “vessels of mercy, afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:23). That to which we are called is “eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10). That which we obtain is “salvation in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). It is to glory that God is “bringing many sons” (Heb. 2:10); so that as He, through whom we are brought to it, is “crowned with glory and honour,” so shall we be (Heb. 2:9). We are “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). We are not only “witnesses of the sufferings of Christ, but partakers of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). So that the word of exhortation runs thus: “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13). And the promise is not only, “if we suffer we shall also reign with him;” but, “if we suffer with him, we shall be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). …
Glory, then, is our inheritance. The best, the richest, the brightest, the most beautiful of all that is in God, of good, and rich, and bright, and beautiful, shall be ours. The glory that fills heaven above, the glory that spreads over the earth beneath, shall be ours. But while “the glory of the terrestrial” shall be ours, yet in a truer sense “the glory of the celestial shall be ours.” Already by faith we have taken our place amid things celestial, “being quickened together with Christ, and raised up with him, and made to sit with him in heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6). Thus we have already claimed the celestial as, our own; and having risen with Christ, we “set our affection upon things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Far-ranging dominion shall be ours; with all varying shades and kinds of glory shall we be encompassed, circle beyond circle stretching over the universe; but it is the celestial glory that is so truly ours, as the redeemed and the risen; and in the midst of that celestial glory shall be the family mansion, the church’s dwelling-place and palace—our true home for eternity. …
All that awaits us is glorious. There is an inheritance in reversion; and it is “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:4). There is a rest, a sabbath-keeping in store for us (Heb. 4:9); and this “rest shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10). The kingdom which we claim is a glorious kingdom. The crown which we are to wear is a glorious crown. The city of our habitation is a glorious city. The garments which shall clothe us are garments “for glory and for beauty.” Our bodies shall be glorious bodies, fashioned after the likeness of Christ’s “glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). Our society shall be that of the glorified. Our songs shall be songs of glory. And of the region which we are to inhabit it is said, that “the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23).
The hope of this glory cheers us. From under a canopy of night we look out upon these promised scenes of blessedness, and we are comforted. Our dark thoughts are softened down, even when they are not wholly brightened. For day is near, and joy is near, and the warfare is ending, and the tear shall be dried up, and the shame be lost in the glory, and “we shall be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.”
-Horatius Bonar, Night of Weeping & Morning of Joy (Reformation Heritage, 2008), pp. 227-232.
Thursday morning (4/12/07)
Breakout seminar #2
Mark Dever: “Watch the Past: Living Lessons from Dead Theologians”
GAITHERSBURG, MD – Being one who loves to read the books of dead theologians and preachers, Mark Dever’s session was a personal highlight. The point was to encourage us to broaden our theological and biographical reading to at least 12 different authors, each to be read for one month annually. Dever himself uses a yearly reading plan where he reads a specific author each month of the year (like Augustine in February). Then every April he moves on to John Calvin, reading a new biography or theological work. Each year the reading plan starts over.
For readers of the Together for the Gospel blog, this will sound familiar. On February 1, 2006 Dever wrote a short post titled “An apostolic agenda” outlining this very thing. On Thursday morning at the Sovereign Grace Ministries Leader’s Conference, Dever filled out the details.
Dever began with a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation which outlines some reasons why old books are important. Lewis writes,
There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire. …
The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.
With this introduction, Dever launched into his “canon of theologians.” He encouraged us to read on theological issues that are not a particular struggle at the time. Let the theologians talk about what they want to talk about. Dever then outlined his own personal reading plan.
The ‘canon of theologians’
January – Early church writings (1st-3rd centuries). Recommended reading: Many and various works and authors were mentioned like the Epistle of Dionysius, The Didache, Clement, The Martyrdom of Polycarp and the Penguin paperback, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers (0140444750). When asked if he used the early church writings in his expositional research, he said ‘no.’ He is familiar with the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture but has not found them exegetically beneficial. [This helps answer an important question we asked earlier this year]. Dever’s use of the early church fathers is predominantly theological and historical.
February – Augustine (354-430). The most influential extra-biblical theologian in the West. Recommended: City of God and The Confessions (Henry Chadwick edition). Dever’s disagreement: That the church is the conduit of salvation. “Augustine got it bad wrong on ecclesiology.”
March – Martin Luther (1483-1546). Lessons learned: 1. Justification is by faith alone, all of sheer grace. Luther “cleanses the church from the barnacles of traditionalism.” 2. Luther’s boldness. Read biography Here I Stand. Recommended reading: 95 Theses and Bondage of the Will. You can read Bondage of the Will out loud to children and they will be engaged because of the vigorous prose and Luther’s name-calling towards Erasmus (Dever is very funny). Best bio being Here I Stand by Roland Bainton (0452011469).
April – John Calvin (1509-1564). The greatest theologian of the Reformation period. Lessons learned: 1. God’s glory at the center of everything. The world is the “theater” of God’s glory. 2. Centrality of man’s depravity, shown especially in the heart’s perpetual idol production. 3. He was careful with Scripture. Calvin had a very rare combination of gifts that balanced the theological, linguistic, pastoral, and exegetical. 4. He filled both the offices of pastor and scholar. 5. The diligent training of his spiritual children even as he knew sending these pastors back into France would mean certain death [see the concept of “Calvin’s School of Death”]. Disagreements: That the state is responsible for the church. He confused the church and state, a distinction we take for granted today. Recommended: Sermons on the Ten Commandments, commentary on 1 Cor. 12-14, The Institutes of the Christian Religion and anything written by T.H.L. Parker. He does not recommend modern bios of Calvin and especially warned against McGrath.
May – Richard Sibbes (1577-1635). Lessons learned: 1. The tenderness of Christ. The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax a great example of Jesus’ tenderness and it makes for a great read together with your spouse. Sibbes was able to point out evidences of grace very well. 2. “Diagnostic evangelism.” Sibbes continued to hold out the biblical truth of what a genuine Christian looks like and, by consequence, sorted out those who nominally professed faith. By authenticating the Christian life he naturally separated the sheep from the wolves and goats. He was clear that one’s salvation does not come through assurance but rather assurance comes from genuine salvation. Sibbes pointed those who were never converted to run to grace in the Cross. Disagreement: Infant baptism. Recommendations: Sibbes stuttered in his preaching so he kept his sentences relatively short and this makes him easier to read than his contemporaries. Start with the sermons in volume seven of his collected works.
June – John Owen (1616-1683) and John Bunyan (1628-1688). John Owen is known for his argument on limited atonement in Death of Death. It’s a good book to scare Arminians, but there exist better exegetical ways to argue for limited atonement. Lesson learned: Linger with Scripture. “Diligent meditation reaps great rewards.” Dever especially recommends the Owen volumes by Kris Lundgaard (The Enemy Within and Through the Looking Glass) and those by Kapic and Taylor (Overcoming Sin and Temptation). … John Bunyan was a “pot-repairer with extraordinary preaching gifts.” Bunyan clearly expresses himself without the use of long, Latin sentences. His life was marked by a sincere pastoral concern. Recommended: Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (autobiographical) and The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Pilgrim’s Progress being a “great systematic theology” built around the “centrality of heaven.”
July – Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). There are many lessons and warnings from the life of Jonathan Edwards. Lessons learned: 1. Diligent meditation. “Edwards can stare at an idea” and has “a powerful ability to think out and illustrate” that idea. An excellent example of this is Edward’s sermon The Excellency of Christ. 2. Edwards demonstrates a zeal for the purity of the church. 3. Understands the connection between his ministry and his congregation. In his Farewell Sermon, after Edwards was fired, he tells his congregation “I’ll see you before the throne.” Disagreements: 1. Infant baptism. 2. The logic of God’s centrality seemed a bit philosophical rather than always biblical. 3. He shows some pastoral carelessness especially with the “young folks’ Bible” controversy [see chapter 18 in George Marsden’s biography]. Nevertheless, Edwards demonstrates a powerful ability to think out and illustrate. Read his sermons and especially his sermon The Nakedness of Job which he wrote when he was 18 years old! As an interesting side note, Dever has preached an Edwards sermon to his congregation. On October 5, 2003 he took Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, marked up the manuscript as he would his own and preached it. You can listen to the final product here.
August – C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). Lessons learned: 1. Evangelism. Spurgeon preached the gospel from any and every text. “More than anyone else, I think of Spurgeon when I prepare my sermons.” Preach each sermon as though someone may be converted. 2. His life is filled with stories of God’s kindness upon his ministry. Read Spurgeon’s autobiography and be amazed at the stories. Spurgeon’s autobiography “may be the most fun thing to read apart from Scripture.” It will encourage you to see that we have a glorious God. 3. He had a lively faith. Spurgeon had “a heightened God-consciousness.” Even in the midst of a prolonged depression, Spurgeon shows that depression drives a faithful Christian to God. Read his Morning and Evening devotional.
September – B.B. Warfield (1851-1921). “Warfield strengthens my faith.” Like John Calvin, Warfield had a wonderful mix of scholarship and piety. Disagreements include infant baptism and Presbyterian polity.
October – Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Not much in disagreement. Lessons learned: 1. Gave his life to preaching and lived confident in the power of God’s Word. 2. Deadly earnest. It was no light thing for him to preach. The pulpit was the “desk of God.” Recommended: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Preaching and Preachers, Spiritual Depression and his biography by Iain Murray.
November – C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003). Because time ran short, Dever simply finished off his list of writers he reads in November and December without further comment or recommendation.
December – Contemporary authors like John Stott, J.I. Packer, Iain Murray, R.C. Sproul and John Piper.
This breakout session encourages me to pursue the study of the early church writers, although I’ve become more convinced that they will not prove as helpful in my expositional research and sermon preparation as others. It also encourages me to narrow my focus to a handful of great writers and focus attention on their writings each year. I’m in the process of creating my own “canon of theologians” for annual study.