Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"City of God" V.17-18

Chapter 17:
I believe this may be the greatest line in the history of human political thought:
For, as far as this life of mortals is concerned, which is spent and ended in a few days, what does it matter under whose government a dying man lives, if they who govern do not force him to impiety and iniquity?
Which isn't to say I'm completely sold on it, but I think it is something here that at least to some extent all Christians should hold dear: Christianity is not dependent on the government. It is far too easy to forget that the Bible was not written uniquely for Americans. It is for all Christians in all times and places, under every form of government and every political circumstance imaginable. Monarchy, tyranny, communism, fascism, democracy, and all the rest we can think of may be lived in by Christians with no sin on our part.

Not that all governments are necessarily equal--the Roman state after all has some pretty serious advantages to it. (And there are those times when the state does force us 'to impiety and iniquity' that have to be examined.) But, in the general course of human events,
I do not see what it makes for the safety, good morals, and certainly not for the dignity, of men, that some have conquered and others have been conquered, except that it yields them that most insane pomp of human glory, in which “they have received their reward,” who burned with excessive desire of it, and carried on most eager wars.  For do not their lands pay tribute?  Have they any privilege of learning what the others are not privileged to learn?  Are there not many senators in the other countries who do not even know Rome by sight?  Take away outward show, and what are all men after all but men?  But even though the perversity of the age should permit that all the better men should be more highly honored than others, neither thus should human honor be held at a great price, for it is smoke which has no weight.  
The world wants to parade its glory around? Fine. Let the baby have his bottle. Who rules and who is ruled has no impact on our pursuit of holiness, and the honors of the world have no ultimate meaning and are passing, as "smoke which has no weight."  In fact, even this worldly glory serves ultimately to glorify God, since as it passes away it teaches us, sets an example for us, and encourages us to lift our eyes from this world to the city that will last forever:
But let us avail ourselves even in these things of the kindness of God.  Let us consider how great things they despised, how great things they endured, what lusts they subdued for the sake of human glory, who merited that glory, as it were, in reward for such virtues; and let this be useful to us even in suppressing pride, so that, as that city in which it has been promised us to reign as far surpasses this one as heaven is distant from the earth, as eternal life surpasses temporal joy, solid glory empty praise, or the society of angels the society of mortals, or the glory of Him who made the sun and moon the light of the sun and moon, the citizens of so great a country may not seem to themselves to have done anything very great, if, in order to obtain it, they have done some good works or endured some evils, when those men for this terrestrial country already obtained, did such great things, suffered such great things.  And especially are all these things to be considered, because the remission of sins which collects citizens to the celestial country has something in it to which a shadowy resemblance is found in that asylum of Romulus, whither escape from the punishment of all manner of crimes congregated that multitude with which the state was to be founded.
Despite itself, the city of man serves to picture the Christian Gospel. In the city of God, all manner of sinners are gathered together by the shed blood of Christ not to pursue our own glory (the mistake the world makes), but to reflect the glory of God. Even as it dissipates the smoke-without-weight glory of the city of man drifts upward and cannot help but bend towards the Lord.

Chapter 18:
Another way the city of man serves to glorify God is to humble us-- if unregenerate mankind is so dedicated to its own fleeting glory, how can we be so placid in the face of the eternal glory earned for us on and given to us through the cross?
There are those two things, namely, liberty and the desire of human praise, which compelled the Romans to admirable deeds.  If, therefore, for the liberty of dying men, and for the desire of human praise which is sought after by mortals, sons could be put to death by a father, what great thing is it, if, for the true liberty which has made us free from the dominion of sin, and death, and the devil... we should, I do not say put to death our sons, but reckon among our sons Christ’s poor ones?
And again:
But so far as regards human and temporal glory, the lives of these ancient Romans were reckoned sufficiently worthy.  Therefore, also, we see, in the light of that truth which, veiled in the Old Testament, is revealed in the New, namely, that it is not in view of terrestrial and temporal benefits, which divine providence grants promiscuously to good and evil, that God is to be worshipped, but in view of eternal life, everlasting gifts, and of the society of the heavenly city itself...
I have a friend who enjoys listening to death metal music (which is not exactly my cup of tea, though I can appreciate some of the older heavy metal bands). His reasoning is that if he could be half as excited about being forgiven forever for all his past, present, and future sins by the atoning work of Christ and reconciled to the infinite, holy, and good God of the universe as these guys are about singing like they've used a sander on their throats and playing like there's a bomb under the drum that will go off if they play less than 300 bpm, then he would be halfway to heaven in the process of sanctification by now.

And obviously there's something to this. We see the time and energy that go into politics, the emotions generated by flag-waving crowds, and the passion that gets poured into political causes. And yet we get bored if the sermon runs more than 20 minutes; we demand a concert instead of theologically rich congregationally-engaged singing; and we struggle to stay awake if a public prayer is longer than 30 seconds. That the city of God does not inspire such delight and passion in us (and I certainly do include myself in that) is a mark of the depth of human depravity, and should lead us to pray greatly for reformed affections and a reorientation of our delights away from the fleeting glories of this world and onto the One who made it and saved us from our sins.

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