Saturday, May 31, 2014

"City of God" XII.1-3

Chapter 1:
Before we get to the City of God/city of man distinction as it applies to mankind, we have to say a word or two about how it can be the case that men and angels can be lumped into the same cities. That is, why are there only two, and not four?
We have to start with the understanding that there are two sorts of dispositions in rational created beings--good and evil. This is not something that is originally intrinsic to our natures (however much it may be "natural" now), but is a result of our choice and inclination:
There is no reason to doubt that the contrary dispositions which have developed among these good and bad angels are due, not to different natures and origins, for God the Author and Creator of all substances has created them both, but to the dissimilar choices and desires of these angels themselves. Some, remaining faithful to God, the common good of all, have lived in the enjoyment of His eternity, truth, and love, while others, preferring the enjoyment of their own power, as though they were their own good, departed from the higher good and common blessedness for all and turned to goods of their own choosing.
This choosing of the lesser good (themselves, "good" as created beings) becomes the root of all sin and makes those who prefer the lesser good to the greater Good that is God "proud, deceitful, and envious."

Likewise, the unfallen angels continue to enjoy happiness as a result of their unbroken union with God. This is the source of happiness for angels and for man (but not for animals, which can never be "happy" in this sense), and the reason that the fallen angels have no happiness--because they have betrayed even the goodness of their own natures by rejecting the union with God which they were made for.

Chapter 2-3:
Thus, we see that God did not make some angels good and others evil--they are the same sorts of creatures who have chosen different things. The good angels have chosen to live according to the order of existence God has established, and consequently to live in accord with their own natures as originally created. The evil angels, on the other hand, have usurped this order and embraced instead the alternative to God. Of course, since God is the supreme Good, there can be no true alternative to Him, and as a result they have chosen evil, which is a lack of goodness.

What Augustine has done here is to protect God from the charge that He creates evil. Augustine has of course already said that God is sovereign over it and that He can use evil to His own ends, but at no point is He morally culpable for its existence or its effects on His good creation. When we choose to betray the good He put in us when He made us and embrace instead of His Goodness and the orders He established, we make a ruin of our own souls and replace our chance at happiness with the vacuous nothingness of rebellious evil. We gain no good thing from our choice, but instead lose the life that we were made for by our Creator.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"City of God" XI.33-34

Chapter 33:
This quality of rest is what defines the City of God as it basks in the light of God's Presence. Likewise, a lack of rest is what defines the city of man by contrast:
...we may say, the one dwelling in the heaven of heavens, the other cast thence, and raging through the lower regions of the air; the one tranquil in the brightness of piety, the other tempest-tossed with beclouding desires; the one, at God’s pleasure, tenderly succoring, justly avenging,—the other, set on by its own pride, boiling with the lust of subduing and hurting; the one the minister of God’s goodness to the utmost of their good pleasure, the other held in by God’s power from doing the harm it would; the former laughing at the latter when it does good unwillingly by its persecutions, the latter envying the former when it gathers in its pilgrims. 
This may (and Augustine stresses that this may not have been the author's intention) be what the creation story means when it discusses separating light from darkness-- that is, it means splitting the angels into the two cities.
Whatever it means, we gain much by the contemplation of the one City, full of light and life and rest, and the other, full of turmoil, pain, and death.

Chapter 34:
Some people argue that God did not create everything--namely "water," since it is not mentioned in the creation story. Augustine points out that it is included implicitly in the phrase "heavens and earth." Nor should we get too caught up in that sort of argument, as some are wont to do. Instead, we should be content that we have enough information about the heavenly City of God to begin to delve into its distinctions from the city of man.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

"City of God" XI.30-32

Chapter 30:
As an example of how creation is only truly seen (as the angels in the City of God see) when we look at the Creator, Augustine gives us a brief exposition of the creation narrative from Genesis. Here, he explains that God could have created everything all at once, but instead expresses creation as a process that involves a perfect, rational, and wise number (six, in this case). We see simultaneously that Augustine is not tied down to a literal six-day creationism (not here, anyway), but that he is tied down to a creation that is 1) orderly; 2) rational; 3) progressive; 4) a direct work of God's power, intellect, and will.

Chapter 31:
Even the day of rest, the Sabbath, which involves no creation and no work, is a day governed by God's Reason and Wisdom since 7 is another perfect number. In fact, this "rest" is the normal state of heaven, and that from which both God and the angels (and, presumably, the glorified believers as well) operate. We, on the other hand, have not yet reached our rest, our Sabbath--we even have to work to get to meaning in Scripture:
It is even with toil we search into the Scriptures themselves.  But the holy angels, towards whose society and assembly we sigh while in this our toilsome pilgrimage, as they already abide in their eternal home, so do they enjoy perfect facility of knowledge and felicity of rest.  It is without difficulty that they help us; for their spiritual movements, pure and free, cost them no effort.
Chapter 32:
At the end of the day, so long as we delight in God and His work, we need not quibble too much over our interpretations of the creation story:
Let each one, then, take it as he pleases; for it is so profound a passage, that it may well suggest, for the exercise of the reader’s tact, many opinions, and none of them widely departing from the rule of faith.
That is, so long as we hold to the Trinitarian doctrines of Divine Creation, we may interpret Genesis 1 and 2 as we will. (Though of course, we should not come to the point where we are saying that the angels are co-eternal with God, that would be heresy--usually of the Gnostic variety.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"City of God" XI.27-29

Chapter 27:
Each of these aspects of the Trinity that man images (existence, knowledge, and love) we see in man and in the world. We know, for example, that existence is intrinsically a good thing by how tenaciously both we and the animals hold on to it. Even when our lives are miserable, we beg for just a bit more; and if given the choice, we would always choose an eternity of misery over non-existence.
Likewise, we can see that we love to know, for "there is not a man who would not rather be sad but sane than glad but mad." Even the animals, though they cannot actually know, but only image knowledge, clearly delight in what small bit of knowledge they can participate in. We of course delight both in that knowledge which flows from our instincts and in that knowledge which is of a spiritual nature, "and by which we distinguish what is just from what is unjust--justice by means of an intellectual conception; what is unjust by the lack of such a form." We do not posses this knowledge through our senses, but rather through our sense of existence and our delight in knowledge itself. We love existence and knowledge, and there we have the three parts of mankind (love, existence, and knowledge) that form our image of the Trinity.

Chapter 28:
Augustine says that he does not need to go into the nature or depths of our "love for existence and knowledge, nor of the analogy to this love which can be found even on the lower levels of creation." It is enough to see that at root, what matters is the nature and focus of our love: "We do not call a man good because he knows what is good, but because he loves it." That is, we are to be judged according to the nature of our love--its orientation and focus. We can of course either love the good, or love "what should not be loved," or both. Animals and plants, for example, love the physical life. The inanimate world too is driven by love, though of course it is not aware of such a drive. But as men we have a higher sense of how love pervades the world:
It is, therefore, because we are men, created to the image of a Creator, whose eternity is true, His truth eternal, His love both eternal and true, a Creator who is the eternal, true, and lovable Trinity in whom there is neither confusion nor division, that, wherever we turn among the things which He created and conserved so wonderfully, we discover His footprints, whether lightly or plainly impressed. For, not one of all these things which are below us would either be, or belong to a particular species, or follow and observe any order, unless it has been created by Him whose existence, wisdom, and goodness are all transcendent. 
When we see God's providential government over the world, we should not see a cold and distant Stoic fate, an Aristotelian lonely contemplator of himself, a divine watchmaker, an impersonal Epicurean chance, a separated Platonic idea, or an abstract Pythagorean algorithm. We should see a God whose rule over Creation is shaped by a personal and intimate love.

The good news is that as believers, we participate in this love and look forward to the day when it will fully shape and direct our lives: "In Him our existence will know no death, our knowledge embrace no error, our love meet no resistance." We know this now by self-examination to a limited extent, but we ourselves are untrustworthy as final standards. (Augustine doesn't make the point, but it should be self-evident: every time we look at our own hearts for evidence of salvation, we are going to come away disappointed, because in this life we will always see sin there. And so we must lift our eyes from ourselves and to Jesus, who is the source, shaper, and goal of our faith and through whose work alone we have the hope of salvation.) Yet, God has not left us without guides--"we seek for other witnesses if we have not already found them."

Augustine does not discuss these witnesses here (frustratingly, in my opinion), but instead continues to focus on the City of God as it currently resides in heaven. Specifically, he continues his discussion of the angels.

Chapter 29:
The angels "know" God in a way which is purer and brighter than what we now can conceive. Specifically, they "know" God both in the sense that they can know Him in their own thoughts through self-examination, and in the sense that they can look at Him any time they please. Their knowledge of God is thus comparable to how we can both look at a line and mentally picture a line--the former is greater and purer than the latter, but both are forms of knowledge. But this is not just true of self-reflection, it is true of all creation. That is, the angels can look at themselves, mankind, the heavens, the earth, the animals, and so on, and see in all of these things something of God's character, but they know them more richly and fully when they see them in the Word of God, when they look to His Wisdom and see there that of which creation is only an image:
In the one case [looking to the Word of God], the knowledge [of the angels] has the clarity of the Artist's thought; in the other, it has shadows of the thing produced. But, when these creations are referred to the praise and adoration of the Creator Himself, it is as if the morning dawned in the minds of those who were contemplating them.
Augustine has a simply wonderful point here: when we look to the world we do see something true about God, we see truth in that there is existence, wisdom, and love, but when we look at God in His Word, we see the Existence, Wisdom, and Love that created the world in its--in His--pure and primal nature. It is the difference between looking at a blurry photograph and looking at the person himself; certain true things may be had from the former, but the latter must be used as the standard and source. In the same way, if we want to understand the world, to exist, know, and love, we must look not at the world, but follow the example of the angels (surely one group of "witnesses" mentioned in the previous chapter) and look at God Himself in Jesus Christ, through whom alone we can have the true understanding, existence, and love that human beings are intended to have.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"City of God" XI.24-26

Chapter 24:
Here we get the short-form version of Augustine's exposition of the Trinity. (The long form is Augustine's work De Trinitate.) It is for all intents an purposes both a rephrasing of the Creed and a articulation of the question that would eventually and finally divide the Eastern church from the Western church. Augustine in general is content to articulate truth while leaving appropriate mystery:
When we ask concerning each Person individually, the answer must be that each one is God and each is Almighty; and when we inquire concerning the three together, the reply must be that there are not three Gods or three Almighties, but a single God Almighty. Such is the indivisible unity in the Three and such is the way it should be stated.
To paraphrase one of the Cappacadocian Fathers (I can never remember which), we cannot think of the One True God without being caught up into the mystery of the Trinity, and we cannot think of the Trinity without being back to the unity of the One True God.

Beyond that, however, Augustine hesitates to step into fray that would divide the church in later centuries. Namely, "I am not prepared to offer any premature opinion as to whether or not the Holy Spirit of the good Father and of the good Son should be called the goodness of both since He is common to both."
Though Augustine inclines to what would become the Western view (that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son), he instead looks at the practical implications of the nature of the Trinity for creation. Because of the economy of the Trinity, we see that the stamp of the image of God on the world is a stamp of goodness, holiness, reason, life, wisdom, joy, and community. All of these exist in God Himself between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and flow from Him into creation.

Chapter 25:
We see a picture of the Trinity even in worldly philosophy, where the three categories of Hellenistic thought (physics, logic, and ethics) line up with ways the Trinity is reflected in the world. That is, through existence, wisdom, and purpose. This is not of course to say that the worldly philosophers understand or believe in the Trinity, just that the stamp of God is so firmly on the world that the exercise of reason itself teaches us something about His character. In fact, these worldly philosophers were pursuing only natural ends, which would be appropriate "if we were the cause of our own nature." But since we are not, since "in fact, God is the Author of the existence of our nature... therefore, He must be our Teacher if we are ever to be wise, and He must be the Source of our inmost consolation if we are ever to be happy." Worldly philosophy can uncover our desires and teach us that what we need cannot be found within it, but it can never satisfy the longings of the heart or be a ground for the thought of the mind.

Chapter 26:
When we reflect on ourselves, we "recognize... an image of God, in the sense of an image in the Trinity." Augustine is careful to note that "it is merely an image, and, in fact, a very remote one," lest we be tempted to begin to identify ourselves too much with our Creator. Even at that, it is still a clearer image than is found anywhere else in creation. Specifically, we see in ourselves that "I am certain that I am, that I know that I am, and that I love to be and to know." This reflects the Trinitarian economy in which God the Father exists as the ground of the Godhead, God the Son is the Wisdom and the Word (the Logos) of the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father. This same idea is expressed by Edwards:
And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's Infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons.
When we examine ourselves, we find similar interactions and inclinations within us. This is not to make the argument that each human being is actually three persons, just that we are made in God's image and so even reflect this truth about Him.

Augustine notes, in passing, that this provides a response to the theories of the Skeptics, who would question everything--even whether or not we exist. Anticipating Descartes, Augustine notes that even if we're wrong, we can conclude that we exist, as there must be someone there to be wrong. And if I can know that I exist, then I must not be wrong about my knowledge that I exist. And since such knowledge is a good thing--a pleasing thing to be loved, since it is knowledge--then I can know 11) that I exist; 2) that I have knowledge; 3) that there is something to love. Which gets us right back to our picture of the Trinity.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Bunyan's Sermon on Christ's Intercession

...or, possibly a booklet--because this is long, even for a Puritan sermon. I've included below just one small part of this sermon (but a good one!). You can find the rest here. Honestly, the whole thing is worth having a paper copy you can mark up.


(At least, so far I'd say it's worth it--I haven't finished it yet and I suppose it could turn south at any point.)

Bunyan has just begun a discussion of the sorts of people who come to Jesus Christ in His role as Intercessor. Namely, these are
1) "the newly awakened" (i.e. new believers--with "awakened" meaning people who have understood and been convinced of the truth of the Gospel);
2) returning backsliders (those believers who have wandered from the faith and are now repenting);
3) faithful Christians.
The following is Bunyan's discussion of how the first category of new believers are to understand what Jesus does for them as Intercessor. I've cleaned up this text a bit so that it's more readable for us modern folks--but only a bit, because I am not a monster. Or at least, not that kind of monster... Most of my changes have to do with structure (as with the bullet points in the first paragraph), not word usage. Also, rather than providing Scripture citations I've linked to the passage itself. Direct quotes are indented and linked, while references are only linked. I've also tried to explain [in brackets] uncommon words or odd usages of common words. Even with all of these changes, this passage (and the whole sermon) is so worth your time. As with any Puritan writing, patience and slowness bring the most rewards.

So, what has a newly awakened believer to do with Christ's intercession? We have to start with what it means to be "awakened" [begin Bunyan quote]:

"By 'awakened' I mean awakened thoroughly.  So awakened as to be made to see:
  • themselves, what they are; 
  • the world, what it is; 
  • the law, what it is; 
  • hell, what it is; 
  • death, what it is; 
  • Christ, what he is; 
  • and God, what he is; 
  • and also what judgment is. 
A man that will come to God by Christ aright must needs, precedent [prior] to his so coming, have a competent knowledge of things of this kind.

First, he must know himself, what a wretched and miserable sinner he is, before he will take one step forward in order to his coming to God by Christ. This is plain from a great many scriptures as that of the parable of the prodigal, that account of the three thousand, that of the jailer, and those of many more besides. The whole have no need of the physician. They were not the sound and whole, but the lame and diseased that came to him to be cured of their infirmities; and it is not the righteous, but the sinners that do well know themselves to be such that come to God by Christ.
It is not in the power of all the men on earth to make one man come to God by Christ, because it is not in their power to make men see their state by nature. And what should a man come to God for, that can live in the world without him? Reason says so, experience says so, the Scripture bears witness that so it is of a truth. It is a sight of what I am that must unroost [unseat] me, that must shake my soul and make me leave my present rest. No man comes to God by Christ but he that knows himself, and what sin hath done to him. That is the first.

Secondly, as he must know himself, and what a wretch he is; so he must know the world and what an empty thing it is. Cain did see himself, but saw not the emptiness of this world; and therefore instead of going to God by Christ, he went to the world, and there did take up to his dying day. The world is a great snare to the soul, even to the souls of awakened sinners, by reason of its big looks [its attractive appearance], and the fair promises that it makes to those that will please to entertain it. It will also make [pretend] as though it could do as much to the quieting of the spirit as either sermon, Bible, or preacher. Yes, and it has its followers ready at its heels continually to blow its applause abroad, saying
Who will show us any other good?
And though
this their way is their folly yet their posterity approveth their sayings. 
So that unless a man, under some awakenings, sees the emptiness of the world, he will take up in the good things thereof and not come to God by Christ. Many there be now in hell that can seal [testify] to this truth. It was the world that took awakened Cain, awakened Judas, awakened Demas. Yes, Balaam, though he had some kind of visions of God, yet was kept by the world from coming to him aright [properly]. See with what earnestness the young man in the gospel came to Jesus Christ, and that for eternal life. He ran to him, he kneeled down to him, and asked--and that before a multitude--
'Good master what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
And yet, when he was told that he could not come, for the world soon stepped betwixt that life and him, and persuaded him to take up in itself; and so, for aught [all] we know, he never looked after life more [again].

There are four things in the world that have a tendency to lull an awakened man asleep, if God also makes him not afraid of the world:
  1. There is the bustle and cumber [burden] of the world that will call a man off from looking after the salvation of his soul. This is intimated by the parable of the thorny ground. Worldly cumber is a devilish thing; it will hurry a man from his bed without prayer; to a sermon, and from it again, without prayer; it will choke prayer, it will choke the Word, it will choke convictions, it will choke the soul, and cause that awakening shall be to no saving purpose. 
  2. There is the friendship of this world, to which, if a man is not mortified, there is no coming for him to God by Christ. And a man can never be mortified to it unless he shall see the emptiness and vanity of it. Whosoever makes himself a friend of this world is the enemy of God. And how, then, can he come to him by Christ? 
  3. There are the terrors of the world, if a man stands in fear of them, he also will not come to God by Christ. The fear of man brings a snare. How many have, in all ages, been kept from coming to God aright by the terrors of the world? Yes, how many are there who to one's thinking have almost got to the gates of heaven, and have been scared and driven quite back again by nothing but the terrors of this world? This is that which Christ so cautioned his disciples about, for he knew it was a deadly thing. Peter also bids the saints beware of this as of a thing very destructive. 
  4. There is also the glory of the world, namely honors and greatness and preferments [recognition]--an absolute hindrance to convictions and awakenings.

          'How can ye believe,' says Christ, 'that receive honor one of another and seek not the honor that         cometh from God?'

    If therefore a man is not in his affections crucified to these, it will keep him from coming to God aright.
Thirdly, as a man must know himself (how vile he is), and know the world (how empty it is), so he must know the law--how severe it is; else he will not come to God by Jesus Christ, our Lord.
A man that is under awakenings is under a double danger of falling short of coming to God by Christ if he knows not the severity of the law. He is either in danger of slighting its penalty, or of seeking to make amends to it by doing good works; and nothing can keep him from splitting his soul upon one of these two rocks but a sound knowledge of the severity of the law.

  1. He is in danger of slighting the penalty. This is seen by the practice of all the profane in the world. Do they not know the law? Verily many of them can say the Ten Commandments without book [from memory.] But they do not know the severity of the law, and therefore when at any time awakenings come upon their consciences they strive to drive away the guilt of one sin by wallowing in the filth of another. But would they do thus if they knew the severity of the law? They would as soon eat fire. The severity of the law would be an intolerable, unsupportable burden to their consciences. It would drive them and make them fly for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them. 
  2. Or, if he slights not the penalty, he will seek to make amends to it by doing good works for the sins he has committed. This is manifest by the practice of the Jews and Turks and all that swerve on that hand--namely, to seek life and happiness by the law. Paul also was here before he met with Jesus in the way. This is natural to consciences that are awakened, unless also they have it given to see the true severity of the law. The which that you may do, if my mite will help, I will cast in for your conviction these four things [Bunyan is going to help us understand how severe the Law of God is]: 
  • The law charges you with its curse, for the pollution of your nature as well as for the defilements of your life; even and if you had never committed sinful acts, your pollution of nature must stand in the way of life, if you come not to God for mercy by Christ. 
  • The law takes notice of and charges you with its curse for sinful thoughts as well as for vile and sinful actions. The very thought of foolishness is sin, though it never breaks out into act, and will as surely merit the damnation of the soul as will the greatest transgression in the world. 
  • If now you could keep all the commandments, that will do you no good at all, because you have sinned first. 'And the soul that sins shall die.' Unless then you can endure the curse, and so in a legal way overcome it for the sins that you have committed, you are gone [condemned] if you come not to God by Christ for mercy and pardon. 
  • And never think of repentance thereby [as a way] to stop the mouth of the law. For the law calls not for repentance, but life; nor will it accept of any, should you mourn and weep for your sins till you have made a sea of blood with tears. This I say, you must know, or you will not come to God by Christ for life. For the knowledge of this will cause that you shalt neither slight the severity of the law, nor trust to the works thereof for life. Now, when you do neither of these, you [cannot help but] speed yourself to God by Christ for life; for now you hast no stay [support]; pleasures are gone, all hope in yourself is gone. You now die, and that is the way to live; for this inward death is, or feels like, a hunger-bitten stomach that cannot but crave meat and drink. Now it will be as possible for you to sleep with your finger in the fire as to forbear [give up] craving mercy so long as this knowledge remains.
Fourthly, as a man must know himself, the emptiness of this world, and the law of God, so it is necessary for him to know that there is a hell, and how insupportable the torments of it are; for all threatenings, curses, and determinations to punish in the next world will prove but fictions and scarecrows, if there be no woeful place, no woeful state, for the sinner to receive his wages in for sin when his days are ended in this world. Wherefore, this word 'saved' supposes such a place and state. He is able to save from hell, from the woeful place--from the woeful state--of hell them that come unto God by him.

Christ, therefore, often insinuates [inserts] the truth of a hell in his invitations to the sinners of this world to come to him; as where he tells them they shall be saved if they do, [but] they shall be damned if they do not. As if he had said, "There is a hell--a terrible hell!--and they that come to me I will save them from it; but they that come not, the law will damn them in it." Therefore that you may indeed come to God by Christ for mercy, believe there is a hell, a woeful, terrible place! Hell is God's creature, 'he has made it deep and large!' The punishments are by the lashes of his wrath, which will issue from his mouth like a stream of burning brimstone, ever kindling itself upon the soul. You must know this by the Word, and fly from it; or [else] you shall know it by your sins and lie and cry in it.

I might enlarge [expand this point]; but if I did I should be swallowed up; for we are while here no more able to set forth the torments of hell, than we are while here to set forth the joys of heaven. Only this may (and ought!) to be said: that as God is able to save, so [he is able] to cast into hell. And [just] as he is able to make heaven sweet, pleasurable, and glorious beyond thought, so he is able to make the torments of hell so exquisite, so hot, so sharp, so intolerable, that no tongue can utter it--no not the damned in hell themselves. If you love your soul, slight [disdain] not the knowledge of hell; for that and the law are the spurs which Christ uses to prick [drive] souls forward to himself. What is the cause that sinners can play so delightfully with sin? It is that they forget that there is a hell for them to descend into for their so doing, when they go out of this world. For here usually he gives a stop to our sinful course; we perceive that hell has opened her mouth before us. Lest you should forget, I beseech you another time to retain a knowledge of hell in your understanding and apply the burning hot thoughts thereof to your conscience. This is one way to make you gather up you heels [stand up] and mend your pace [run faster] in coming to Jesus Christ and to God the Father by him.

Fifthly, it is also necessary that he that comes to God by the Lord Jesus, should know what death is, and the uncertainty of its approaches upon us.

Death is, as I may call it, the 'feller'--the 'cutter down.' Death is that which puts a stop to a further living here, and that which lays man where it finds him. If he is in the faith in Jesus, it lays him down there to sleep till the Lord comes; if he be not in the faith, it lays him down in his sins until the Lord comes. Again if you have some beginnings that look like good, and death should overtake you before those beginnings are ripe, your fruit will wither and you will fall short of being gathered into God's barn. Some men are 'cut off like the tops of the ears of corn' and some are even nipped by death in the very bud of their spring; but the safety is when a man is ripe, and shall be gathered to his grave as a shock of corn to the barn in its season.

Now if death should surprise and seize you before you are fit [ready] to die, all is lost. For there is no repentance in the grave, or rather, as the wise man has it,
'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.' 
Death is God's sergeant, God's bailiff, and he arrests in God's name when he comes, but seldom gives warning before he claps us on the shoulder; and when he arrests us, though he may stay a little while and give us leave to pant [panic] and tumble and toss ourselves for a while upon a bed of languishing, yet at last he will prick our bladder and let out our life, and then our soul will be poured upon the ground-- yea into hell, if we are not ready and prepared for the life everlasting. He that does not watch for, and is not afraid lest death should prevent him, will not make haste to God by Christ. What Job said of temporal afflictions, such a one will death be if you are not aware:
'When I looked for good, then evil came... The day of affliction prevented me.'
If you look (or begin to look) for good, and the day of death shall cut you off before you have found that good which you were looking for, all is lost--soul, life, heaven and all. Wherefore it is convenient that you conclude that the grave is your house, and that you make your bed once a day in the grave; also that you say unto corruption
'Thou art my father; and to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister.'
I say, be acquainted with the grave and death. The fool puts the evil day far away, but the wise man brings it nigh [near]. Better to be ready to die seven years before death comes, than want one day, one hour, one moment, one tear, one sorrowful sigh at the remembrance of the ill-spent life that I have lived. This, then, is that which I admonish you of: namely, that you know death, what it is, and what it does when it comes. Also, that you consider well the danger that death leaves that man in to whom he comes before he is ready and prepared to be laid by it in the grave.

Sixthly, you must also be made by your awakenings to see what Christ is. This is of absolute necessity; for how can or shall a man be willing to come to Christ that knows not what he is, what God has appointed him to do? He is the Saviour--every man will say so! But to sense, smell, and taste what saving is, and so to understand the nature of the office and work of a Saviour, is a rare thing, kept close [hidden] from most and known but by some. Jesus of Nazareth is the Saviour or the reconciler of men to God in the body of his flesh through death. This is he whose business in coming from heaven to earth was to save his people from their sins. Now, as was said, to know how he does this is that which is needful to be inquired into; for some say he does it one way, some that he does it another. It must be remembered that we are now speaking of the salvation of that man that from new or first awakenings is coming to God by Christ for life.

  1. Some say he does it by giving us precepts and laws to keep, that we might be justified thereby.
  2. Some say that he does it by setting himself a pattern for us to follow. 
  3. Some again hold that he does it by our following the light within. 
But you must take heed of [be warned against] all these, for he justifies us by none of these means, and you do need to be justified. I say, he justifies us not either by giving laws to us, or by becoming our example, or by our following him in any sense, but rather by his blood shed for us. His blood is not laws, nor ordinances, nor commandments, but a price--a redeeming price. He justifies us by bestowing upon us, not by expecting from us; he justifies us by his grace, not by our works. In a word, you must be well grounded in the knowledge of what Christ is, and how men are justified by him, or you will not come unto God by him. 

As you must know him, and how men are justified by him, so you must know the readiness that is in him to receive and to do for those what they need that come unto God by him. Suppose his merits were ever so efficacious [were enough, yet if it could be proved that there is a loathness [unwillingness] in him that these merits should be bestowed upon the coming ones, there would but few adventure [bother] to wait upon [serve] him. But now, as he is full, so he is free. Nothing pleases him better than to give what he has away; than to bestow it upon the poor and needy. And it will be convenient that you who are a coming soul should know this for your comfort to encourage you to come to God by him. Take two or three sayings of his for the confirming of what is now said. 
Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.
All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. 
I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. 
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief.

Seventhly, as a man that would come to God by Christ must, antecedent to his so coming, know:
himself, what he is;
the world, how empty it is;
the law, how severe it is;
death, and what it is;
and Christ, and what he is; 
so also he must know God.
'He that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.
God must be known, else how can the sinner propound him as his end [goal], his ultimate end? For so does every one that indeed comes to Christ aright [properly]. He comes to Christ because he is the way; he comes to God because he is the end. But, I say, if he knows him not, how can he propound him as the end? The end is that for the sake of which I propound to myself any thing, and for the sake of which I use any means. Now then, I would be saved--but why? Even because I would enjoy God. I use the means [Christ] to be saved; and why? Because I would enjoy God. I am sensible that sin has made me come short of the glory of God, and that Christ Jesus is he--the only 'he'--that can put me into a condition to obtain the glory of God; and therefore I come to God by him.

But, I say again, who will propound [declare] God for his end that knows him not, that knows him not aright? Yea, that knows him not to be worth being propounded as my end in coming to Jesus Christ; and he that thus knows him must know him to be above all, best of all, and him in whom the soul shall find that content, that bliss, that glory, and happiness that can by no means be found elsewhere. And, I say, if this be not found in God, the soul will never propound him to himself as the only, highest, and ultimate end in its coming to Jesus Christ. But it will propound something else, even what it shall imagine to be the best good--perhaps heaven, perhaps ease from guilt, perhaps to be kept out of hell, or the like. I do not say but a man may propound all these to himself in his coming to Jesus Christ; but if he propound these as his ultimate end, as the chiefest good that he seeks, if the presence and enjoyment of God--of God's glorious majesty--be not his chief design, he is not concerned in the salvation that is propounded in our text:
'He is able,' and so will 'save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.'
What is heaven without God? What is ease without the peace and enjoyment of God? What is deliverance from hell without the enjoyment of God? The propounding, therefore, these and only these to yourself for your happiness in coming to Jesus Christ is a proposal not a hair's breadth higher than what a man without grace can propound. What or who is he that would not go to heaven? What or who is he that would not also have ease from the guilt of sin? And where is the man that chooses to go to hell? But many there be that cannot abide God; no, they like not to go to heaven, because God is there. If the devil had a heaven to bestow upon men, a vicious and a beastly heaven (if it be lawful thus to speak), I durst pawn my soul upon it [I am very certain], were it a thousand times better than it is, that upon a bare invitation the foul fiend would have twenty to God's one. They, I say, cannot abide God; nay, for all, the devil has nothing but a hell for them; yet how thick men go to him, but how thinly to God Almighty. The nature of God lies cross to the lusts of men. A holy God, a glorious holy God, an infinitely holy God--this spoils all. But to the soul that is awakened and that is made to see things as they are, to him God is what he is in himself: the blessed, the highest, the only eternal good, and he without the enjoyment of whom all things would sound but empty in the ears of that soul.

Now, then, I advise you that have a mind to come to God by Christ, that you seek the knowledge of God:
'If thou seekest wisdom as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
And to encourage you yet further, he is so desirous of communion with men, that he pardons sins for that. Hence he is called not only loving, but 'love.'
'God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'

Methinks, when I consider what glory there is at times upon the creatures, and that all their glory is the workmanship of God; oh Lord, I say, what is God himself? He may well be called the 'God of glory,' as well as the 'glorious Lord'; for as all glory is from him, so in him is an inconceivable well-spring of glory, of glory to be communicated to them that come by Christ to him. Wherefore, let the glory and love and bliss and eternal happiness that is in God allure you to come to him by Christ.

Eighthly, as you should--nay, must--have a good knowledge of all these, so you must have it [knowledge] of judgment to come. They that come to God by Christ are said to
'fly from the wrath to come;' to 'fly for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them.

The judgment to come is a warm thing to be thought of, an awakening thing to be thought of; it is called the eternal judgment, because it is and will be God's final conclusion with men. This day is called
'the great and notable day of the Lord,' the day that 'shall burn like an oven,
the day in which the angels shall gather the wicked together as tares in bundles to burn them; but the rest into his kingdom and glory. This day will be it in which all bowels of love and compassion shall be shut up to the wicked, and that in which the floodgates of wrath shall be opened, by which a plentiful reward shall be given to evil-doers, but glory to the righteous. This is the day in which men, if they could, would creep into the ground for fear; but because they cannot, therefore, they will call and cry to the mountains to fall upon them, but they shall not; therefore, they stand bound to bear their judgment.

This day will be the day of breaking up closet councils, cabinet councils, secret purposes, hidden thoughts; yea,
'God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing'
I say he shall do it then; for he will both
'bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the heart.' 
This is the day that is appointed to put them to shame and contempt that have, in this world, been bold and audacious in their vile and beastly ways. At this day, God will cover all such bold and brazen faces with shame. Now they will blush till the blood is ready to burst through their cheeks. Oh! the confusion and shame that will cover their faces while God is discovering to them what a vile, what a beastly, what an uncomely [unlovely], and what an unreasonable life they lived in the world. They shall see the contemned God, that fed them, that clothed them, that gave them life and limb, and that maintained their breath in their nostrils. But, Oh!, when they see the gulf before them, and all things ready to receive them in thither; then, they will know what sinning against God means!

And, I say, you that are coming to God by Christ must know this, and be well assured of this, or you will never come to God by him.

What of the glory of God shall be put upon them that do indeed come to him will also help in this spiritual journey, if it be well considered by you. But, perhaps, terror and unbelief will suffer [allow] you to consider but little of that. However, the things aforementioned will be goads [spurs], and will serve to prick [drive] you forward; and if they do so, they will be God's great blessing unto you, and that for which you will give him your thanks for ever.

Thus I have, in few words, spoken something as to the first sort of comers to God by Christ, namely of the coming of the newly-awakened man. And I say again, if any of the things afore-named be wanting, and are not with his heart, it is a question whether, notwithstanding all the noise that he may make about religion, he will ever come to God by Christ.

  1. If he knows not himself and the badness of his condition, wherefore [for what reason] should he come?
  2. If he knows not the world, and the emptiness and vanity thereof, wherefore should he come? 
  3. If he knows not the law, and the severity thereof, wherefore should he come? 
  4. If he knows not hell, and the torments thereof, wherefore should he come? 
  5. If he knows not what death is, wherefore should he come? 
  6. If he knows not the Father and the Son, how can he come? 
  7. And to know that there is a judgment to come is as necessary to his coming as most of the rest of the things propounded.
Coming to God by Christ is for shelter, for safety, for advantage, and for everlasting happiness. But he that knows not, that understands not, the things aforementioned, sees not this need of taking shelter, of flying for safety, of coming for advantage to God by Christ. I know there are degrees of this knowledge, and he that has it most warm upon him, in all likelihood, will make most haste; or, as David says, will haste his escape 
'from the windy storm and tempest,'
and he that sees least is in danger of being the loiterer, and so of losing the prize; for all that run do not obtain it,; all that fight do not win it; and all that strive for it have it not."

"City of God" XI.22-23

Chapter 22:
All of creation is good, though "good" of lesser or greater orders. Poison, Augustine points out, may have evil uses, but it is still a good when it is used as a curative. When we see things in their proper place and according to their Divinely ordained natures, we see that evil has no independent existence of its own, and only exists when the "hierarchy of created realities" is disrupted in its order. When we take a lesser good and turn it into a greater, we create (if one may use that verb--and Augustine would say we shouldn't) evil. So again, as with poison, it only becomes evil when we stop using it for its proper purpose and put it where it does not belong in the hierarchy of being.

We can understand--even as we condemn--those such as the Manicheans who posit an evil creator. They are mistaking a categorical error for a physical error, and it is our job as Christians to highlight that the nature of sin is merely physical, but is a rebellion (both physical and spiritual) against the proper order of the universe. We have tried to lift ourselves above our place and take God's proper place in existence.

Chapter 23:
Even some Christians occasionally fall into the line of thought described in the previous chapter--namely, Origin and his followers. This is unfortunate and requires correction--especially by the idea that the existence of sin in God's creation does not lead to the conclusion that all things are as sinful as they could possibly be. Ruining a painting by darkening the tint does not obliterate all beauty that was there to begin with, and it certainly does not negate the artist's purpose in creating it.
What's more, we have to be careful to avoid the conclusion that Origin seems to reach that sin is most fully expressed in physical bodies. If this were the case, the devil would have been punished by being turned into one. We reminded ourselves to avoid these near-Gnostic extremes when we remember God's purpose and order and sovereignty in Creation--He made the physical world for the same reason that He made the spiritual world: because He is good and it is in His nature to express that goodness through the act of creation.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"City of God" XI.19-21

Chapter 19-20:
Scripture can be unclear and challenging, but even in that there is goodness, for we learn much when we think about and discuss what God might have meant in His Word.
Case in point: when God separated light and darkness, that probably meant separating good angels from fallen angels. The repeated refrain "and God saw that it was good" is not intended to be surprise on the part of God at the nature of creation or on the quality of His works in separating angels, but rather of declaration and affirmation that what He had planned all along came out well.

Chapter 21:
Even Plato knew this, for he knew that God is omniscient, and knows everything past, present, and future and does not change in that knowledge because He made everything "by means of the Word."
God, however, does more than that--not only does He Himself know these things, He deigns to pass at least some of that information on to us. Specifically, He lets us know who created (God); how He created (by His command 'let it be!'); and why He created ('because it is good').
"There is no Creator higher than God, no art more efficacious than the Word of God, no better reason why something good should be created than that the God who creates is good."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

"City of God" XI.14-18

Chapters 14 and 15:
The devil was not created sinful, but rather was created good (as were all things) and then fell of his own accord.

Chapter 16:
We see in creation an order of values that is arranged according to rational principles. For example, we value sentient beings over non-sentient beings, and living things over non-living things, yet we would all rather have (according to Augustine's example) food (non-living) in our house than we would mice (living); yet sometimes we would choose mice (non-sentient) over the company of bad men (sentient).
And so, we can value the Redeemed of God over the fallen angels without violating the rational structure held up by Augustine.

Chapters 17:
God made everything good, such that even when a part of it sins His purposes are still worked. So God retains His Sovereignty even over the rebellious:
But God, as He is the supremely good Creator of good natures, so is He of evil wills the most just Ruler; so that, while they make an ill use of good natures, He makes a good use even of evil wills.
Chapter 18:
This contrast with evil if nothing else highlights the Beauty of the Highest Good. When there is rebellion against God, it remains under His will and demonstrates how truly Worthy He is.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"City of God" XI.11-13

Chapter 11:
There must have been some kind of difference between the unfallen angels and the fallen angels even from their moment of creation, though it could not have been an error in their creation.
Whatever this difference was, we see from the example of the fallen angels that "It does not follow that every thing that is eternal is, therefore, blessed--for the pain of Hell is called eternal."

Chapter 12:
We also know that the unfallen angels are "not the only rational or intellectual creatures who we think should be called blessed." This because pre-fall man in the Garden was likewise blessed, as are Christians today.
And even today we rightly regard as happy all those whom we see leading a good and holy life in the hope of future immortality, untroubled in conscience and with easy access to God's forgiveness for the sins which are due to the frailty of human nature. 
Yet, Augustine (quite rightly) warns us against complacency in our forgiveness:
These saints, however, although certain of their reward if they persevere, can never be sure of their perseverance. For, no man can be sure that he will continue to the end to act and advance in grace unless this fact is revealed to him by God. In His just and secret counsel, God, although He never deceives anyone, gives but few assurances in this matter.
To be sure, none who are saved will ever be lost. There are, however, those who are self-deceived as to the reality of their own salvation. I suspect that we all know people who seemed to be faithful believers, could clearly articulate the Gospel and appeared to delight in it, were involved and active and church and to all appearances desired to live a life of holiness. And yet, something comes along and drags them away--they reject their previously professed faith and declare that they are now enemies of God. Perhaps not in those words, but in their deeds and thoughts.
These are the people the author of Hebrews speaks of he writes:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Or those whom Jesus compares to rocky soil, which initially appears to be fruitful but which ultimately does not produce.
The true believer is repeatedly called by Scripture to self-examination and warned to cling fast to the faith. At the end of the day, this and this alone is the mark of the true perseverance of the saints: that they do not reject Christ but instead hold fast and never be spoken of as John describes the same sorts of people mentioned in Hebrews:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
If you want an excellent resource to help think more carefully about this, Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections is written to help believers through this issue.

Chapter 13:
Again, we are told that there must have been some kind of difference in the creation of the angels that fell which made them capable of falling (though of course without attributing responsibility to God for their rebellion). These fallen angels lack the promise of eternal happiness which unfallen angels and redeemed man may look forward to.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"City of God" XI.9-10

Chapter 9:
When speaking of the City of God, we have to begin with the unfallen angels. This is because they have always been its citizens, unlike the demons and men who were citizens and fell, and unlike the Christians who were not citizens but have now been adopted.
The Bible is unclear as to when angels were created, but it was probably very early in Genesis (as in, Genesis 1:1 with the angels being included in the "light"):
For, 'the true light'... [John 1:9] illumines every pure angel that he may be light not in himself but in God. And, once an angel rejects this Light, he becomes impure. Thus, all those who are called unclean spirits are no longer light in the Lord but darkness in themselves, being deprived of a participation in His eternal light. For, evil has no positive nature; what we call evil is merely the lack of something that is good.
Here Augustine introduces the greatest definition of evil a Christian theologian has been able to come up with so far (one repeated by every theologian worth his salt since then).

Chapter 10:
The "good" which defines the City of God is none other than God Himself existing in His Triune glory. The Trinity alone can be said to both have the Good and be the Good. That is, God at the same time possesses Goodness as an inherent feature of His Trinitarian character and is Good by definition.
Mankind (and the angels), on the other hand, can be made good (by God) but lose possession of that goodness in rebellion.
So too with Life and with Wisdom. "He has life and is the very life He has," and "in this Wisdom there is an infinite and inexhaustible treasury of intelligible realities containing all the invisible and unchangeable ideas of all the visible and changeable existences which were made by this Wisdom."
From God's very nature flows Goodness and Life and Wisdom to the creation which He shaped, and therefore that creation both is good, living, and wise, and possesses goodness, life, and wisdom (until it rebels).

Monday, May 19, 2014

"City of God" XI.6-8

Chapter 6:
We can't really speak of what was happening in eternity past as something that happened in "time," with "time" requiring movement and change, which in turn requires creation. Therefore, time must have been created along with all else, so we cannot speak of what God was doing "before" time began--there is no proper human vocabulary for such ideas.
Also, an anachronistic nod to the 6-day creation/theistic evolution dispute shows up: "As for these 'days' [the seven of creation], it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think--let alone to explain in words--what they mean."

Chapter 7:
For example, we don't know what kind of "light" there was in the three days before the sun was made--how can we imagine a heaven lighted by anything other than the sun?
We can, however, say that this structure of creation gives us a picture of man's growing knowledge of the Creator. Just as it began dimly, it grows over time until it (as we'll see in the next chapter) culminates with rest in God.

Chapter 8:
We must not think of the Sabbath as a day of "rest" in the sense that God was tired. Rather, we must see it as completeness, as a fulfillment of what was promised and begun in the first six days. In the same way, those who are justified in Christ by faith live the lives ordained by God and finally come into the blessed rest of His eternal presence:
And so, when the inspired writer states that God rested, his words are most appropriately interpreted to mean the rest of those who rest in God and of whose rest God is the cause. And the prophecy also promises to those whom it speaks and for whom it was written that, if by faith they have drawn as close to God as is possible in this life, then, after doing the good works which God operates in and through them, they shall enjoy his eternal rest.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"City of God" XI.4-5

Chapter 4:
God, the greatest "of all invisible realities" created the universe, the greatest "of all visible things." We know this by faith, which is not acquired through observation of the physical senses but through the orientation of a regenerate soul in communion with the Wisdom of God. "And this Wisdom, entering into holy souls, makes of them the friends and prophets of God and reveals to them, silently and interiorly, what God has done."

Some people struggle to believe that God actually created the universe, and hold instead that the universe must have always existed. Or, at the very least, God must have been eternally creating the universe. Otherwise (and assuming the doubter in question is a theist), we have to admit some kind of change in the unchangeable God. That is, there must have been a moment in eternity past when God had the inspiration to create, where before He did not have the idea. Which means that God changed in His knowledge and will.

Yet, such people often likewise hold the idea of an eternal soul. But we know from experience that the soul can have new emotions and new sensations, so clearly this does not negate the argument all together. (And of course, the human soul is not eternal in the sense that it always existed--only in the sense that it will always exist henceforth.)

Chapter 5:
As to those who "question us about the time at which it was created," that is, those who ask why God created the universe at the time He did, and not at some time in eternity (farther) past or eternity (farther) present? In response, we might ask why God created the universe in the space where He did. That is, why is the universe where it is now, and not some other place? The cosmos clearly has a place of its own and, barring Epicurus (whom Augustine dismisses with an argument that I hope to return to in a later blog post), all good philosophers admit that the cosmos is limited, "In that case, let this be the answer: It is silly for them to excogitate a past time during which God was unoccupied for the simple reason that there was no such thing as a time before the universe was made"--just as there is not a space beyond that of the space of the cosmos.


Friday, May 16, 2014

"City of God" XI.1-3

Chapter 1:
The phrase "City of God" is not one that Augustine made up on his own to explain some arbitrary or abstract concept, it is a real place spoken of in Scripture repeatedly (Psalm 87:3, for example). "[In Scripture] we learn of the existence of a City of God whose Founder has inspired us with a love and longing to become its citizens." This is opposed to that other city, the "city of man", which contains the bulk of the world bent on worshiping false gods and ignorant of the Creator of all. Book XI is dedicated to explaining where these cities came from.

Chapter 2:
God does not reveal Himself to man by physical means--He does not speak to us as you and I speak to each other, through the vibration of air from my mouth to your ear. Instead, He speaks as a Divine Being to a creature made in His image "by means of the truth itself, and to all who can hear with the mind rather than with the body."
Yet, because of sin even communication via the mind is closed off. In order to have our relationship with God restored, we need regeneration. This is why the Son of God took on flesh. "It was in order to make the mind able to advance more confidently toward the truth that Truth itself, the divine Son of God, put on humanity without putting off His divinity, and built this firm path of faith so that man, by means of the God-man, could find his way to man's God."
Because of the Gospel salvation is now available to man, but only in one way: "Now, there is one way and one way alone that can save us from all aberrations, the Way which is both God and man--God as the goal and man as the means to reach it." It is in Christ alone through His work as Mediator that the regeneration necessary for a restored relationship with God is possible.

Chapter 3:
In a sense, this Mediatorial work of Jesus is itself mediated. This came "first through the Prophets, then by His own lips, afterwards through the Apostles." This is not to say that God has left us dependent on second-hand knowledge per se; since "He also inspired the Scripture, which is regarded as canonical and of supreme authority and to which we give credence concerning all those truths we ought to know and yet, of ourselves, are unable to learn."
When you and I want to know something, there are two ways we can know it: we can see it for ourselves, or we can trust someone else. So too with the knowledge of salvation and reconciliation with God that comes not through the senses, but through (as discussed in chapter 2) a regenerate soul. Where we no longer witness the events of salvation in person, and we no longer have Jesus immediately before us, we have the testimony of Scripture and the witness of those who have believed it:
If our perceptions are of invisible things remote from our own interior sense, we ought to believe either those who have learned these truths as revealed in the Incorporeal Light or those who contemplate these truths in an abiding Vision of God.
 So we may not (indeed probably should not) expect a direct vision of Jesus to necessarily burst Saul-like into our lives and touch our souls, but we should see the display of the Gospel in Scripture ("those who have learned these truths as revealed") and in the lives of those who themselves believe, the Christians ("those who contemplate these truths in an abiding Vision of God"). There is in a sense a chain--not so much of authority, but of cause and effect--that runs from God through the Mediatorial work of Christ, which we can no longer see directly but which is described for us in Scripture and visible in its effects in the lives of Christians.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

"City of God" X.32

Chapter 32:
This religion [Christianity] constitutes the single way for the liberation of all souls, for souls can be saved by no way but this. This is, if I may so speak, the King's highway which alone leads to a kingdom, not tottering on some temporal height, but secure on the firm foundations of eternity.
And yet, Porphyry says that he knows of no religion that offers universal salvation. Which makes one have to wonder why he is so confident in the superiority of his own version of Platonism if it offers no more salvation than any other faith?
Yet, Christianity does offer such a way. (Augustine thinks Porphyry rejected it because he lived at a time when there was persecution of orthodoxy faith and rampant heresy dominating the church.) Christianity alone offers salvation to all men regardless of nation of origin. What was promised and symbolized in the Old Testament revelation to the nations of the world is actually fulfilled in the salvation accomplished by Christ in his Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
Even better, this salvation saves the whole person, not just the intellect (which would leave a need for another savior for the body, and another for the soul, and so on):
This way [the Gospel] purifies the whole man, preparing for immortality every mortal part of which man is composed... This way has never been lacking to the human race, whether at the time when these mysteries were being prophesied or when they were announced as already accomplished. Thus, no one has ever been liberated, nor is being liberated, nor ever will be liberated, except by this way.
So Augustine believes that the last ten books have successfully refuted the pagan claims to truth and salvation, and now he is ready to talk about the two cities themselves as they actually exist in history.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"City of God" X.30-31

Chapter 30:
Even Plato got some things wrong, as Porphyry knew well when he modified Plato's doctrine of the transmigration of souls (see Book X of Plato's Republic) into the more correct glorification of souls in the light of the highest possible good.
So saying "Plato never taught it" is no reason to reject the true doctrines about Jesus Christ, since they reject so central a doctrine of Plato's anyway.

Chapter 31:
Of course, the neo-Platonists likewise corrupt the good sayings of Plato, as when he discussed the creation-from-nothing (ex nihlio) of existence by God. They rather argue that we must be eternal, since we will last forever. On the contrary, Plato, reason, and Scripture all agree that there was a time when we (but not God) were not.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"City of God" X.29

Chapter 29:
Despite having a sort-of revelation of the truth of grace and salvation, the Platonists continually resist this revelation and refuse to believe in the doctrine of the Incarnation.
The grace of God could not have been more graciously commended to us than thus, that the only Son of God, remaining unchangeable in Himself, should assume humanity, and should give us the hope of His love, by means of the mediation of a human nature, through which we, from the condition of men, might come to Him who was so far off,—the immortal from the mortal; the unchangeable from the changeable; the just from the unjust; the blessed from the wretched.  And, as He had given us a natural instinct to desire blessedness and immortality, He Himself continuing to be blessed; but assuming mortality, by enduring what we fear, taught us to despise it, that what we long for He might bestow upon us.
It is the idea that the Transcendent, Infinite God of all Creation could become a man that becomes offensive to the students of Plato, despite the true glory that shines through such a doctrine and illuminates the whole world with wisdom and love.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"City of God" X.27-28

Chapter 27:
Whatever good there may have been in Plato has since been corrupted by his followers, who get caught up in pagan superstition and forget about the pure truth. They offer salvation through wicked demons, while "Christ, however, promises life eternal; and therefore to Him the world flocks, greatly to your indignation, greatly also to your astonishment and confusion. "

Chapter 28:
Those who claim to be wise stumble at the Incarnation, and do not see--even, refuse to see--that Wisdom Himself became a man, took on flesh, lived the life that you and I should have lived and died the shameful death that you and I should have died.
As a result, despite all the wisdom these philosophers legitimately do have, they miss out on eternal life.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"City of God" X.25-26

Chapter 25:
All of these things we've been saying about the Christian faith likewise apply to the Old Testament believers, who also were justified by faith in the (then-still-to-come) Gospel of Jesus Christ. Their sins, too, were dealt with on the cross, and all of us are united in one heavenly city focused on the worship of God.
This is the most glorious city of God; this is the city which knows and worships one God:  she is celebrated by the holy angels, who invite us to their society, and desire us to become fellow-citizens with them in this city; for they do not wish us to worship them as our gods, but to join them in worshipping their God and ours; nor to sacrifice to them, but, together with them, to become a sacrifice to God.  Accordingly, whoever will lay aside malignant obstinacy, and consider these things, shall be assured that all these blessed and immortal spirits, who do not envy us (for if they envied they were not blessed), but rather love us, and desire us to be as blessed as themselves, look on us with greater pleasure, and give us greater assistance, when we join them in worshipping one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, than if we were to offer to themselves sacrifice and worship.
Chapter 26:
Even the pagans that have some dim understanding of this truth cannot quite bring themselves to confess it. Porphyry understands and sees it, but rejects it at the end because of his own sin.

Friday, May 9, 2014

"City of God" X.22-24

Chapter 22:
Any resistance we have to the deceptive worldly spirits comes not from ourselves, but through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. And no comment is necessary, since Augustine speaks quite well for himself here (as is generally the case):
 ...therefore he [the devil] is conquered in the name of Him who assumed humanity, and that without sin, that Himself being both Priest and Sacrifice, He might bring about the remission of sins, that is to say, might bring it about through the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, by whom we are reconciled to God, the cleansing from sin being accomplished.  For men are separated from God only by sins, from which we are in this life cleansed not by our own virtue, but by the divine compassion; through His indulgence, not through our own power.  For, whatever virtue we call our own is itself bestowed upon us by His goodness.  And we might attribute too much to ourselves while in the flesh, unless we lived in the receipt of pardon until we laid it down.  This is the reason why there has been vouchsafed to us, through the Mediator, this grace, that we who are polluted by sinful flesh should be cleansed by the likeness of sinful flesh.  By this grace of God, wherein He has shown His great compassion toward us, we are both governed by faith in this life, and, after this life, are led onwards to the fullest perfection by the vision of immutable truth.
Chapter 23:
Even the pagans have some limited understanding of this, though this understanding is based on a limited rationality pursued by free speech and driven by principles, not by the strict Revelation which Christians have received concerning the truth.

Chapter 24:
Unlike the pagans (especially Porphyry), we do not hold to broad principles, but rather to Christ who died for our sins and will raise us to new life again on the last day:
 Thus the good and true Mediator showed that it is sin which is evil, and not the substance or nature of flesh; for this, together with the human soul, could without sin be both assumed and retained, and laid down in death, and changed to something better by resurrection.  He showed also that death itself, although the punishment of sin, was submitted to by Him for our sakes without sin, and must not be evaded by sin on our part, but rather, if opportunity serves, be borne for righteousness’ sake.  For he was able to expiate sins by dying, because He both died, and not for sin of His own.
This great Gospel is the means by which we are made clean, which we mystically recall in the Lord's Supper, and which the pagans deny not out of lack of understanding, but out of pride.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"City of God" X.18-21

Chapter 18:
Atheists and followers of false gods deny miracles, or they deny that God concerns Himself with human affairs. Christians, on the other hand, insist both that God regularly involves Himself in human affairs (indeed is sovereign over them, as we will see in the theology of history that unfolds in the following books) and that the highest possible good of man is to be personally united to this God of history. Both of these truths are demonstrated by means of the miracles in Scripture.

Chapter 19:
Some hear these things and come to the conclusion that God must be worshiped only by "a pure mind and upright will." This misses the point, since the sacrifice God truly desires is that of a repentant heart that is a sign of the true spiritual sacrifice of the cross. "So, too, when we offer sacrifice, we know that visible sacrifice should be offered to no one but Him to whom we ourselves, in our hearts, should be the invisible sacrifice."
In this, Godly men and angels are alike--we worship God alone and do not divert that worship to any other creature, not even other powerful spiritual beings.

Chapter 20:
All our dedication, all our "sacrifice", to God is possible only through the work of God--namely through the work of the God-Man Jesus Christ. He is the only who who can receive sacrifice, make a sacrifice, and be the sacrifice simultaneously. He receives sacrifices "In His character as God, He receives sacrifices in union with the Father, with whom He is one God; yet He chose, in His character as a slave, to be Himself the Sacrifice rather than to receive it." And he makes the sacrifice as well: "thus it is that He is both the Priest who offers and the Oblation that is offered."
And so, the Christian life should be daily shaped by this sacrifice: "it was His will that as a sacrament of this reality there should be the daily sacrifice of the Church, which, being the Body of Him, her Head, learns to offer itself through Him." In one sense this means communion, when we see over and over the picture of what Christ has done for us on the cross and the reminder that it ought to affect and shape our lives and the symbol that as those covered by the blood of Christ we are now set apart for holy living from the rest of the city of man. But this does not just mean that, especially in the context of the discussion of true sacrifice in the preceding chapters. It means also that every aspect of our lives ought to be lived as sacrifices in the shadow and reflection of Christ's true Sacrifice. That we have been bought ought of our sin and restored to a relationship with God--the one union which leads to true happiness, as we saw in chapter 18--ought to seep through our whole beings and shape us, over time, into new creations. We ought increasingly to be mortifying sin and growing in the Fruit of the Spirit. (If you want an excellent book on the former, I recommend either John Owen's difficult Mortification of Sin or Kris Lundegaard's summary of that book The Enemy Within; for the latter Owen's difficult Communion with God or Jerry Bridges' Practice of Godliness are both excellent.) As we mature, every part of our lives should become sacrifices reflective of the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Chapter 21:
Whatever power demonic forces may have in opposition to this pursuit of holiness on the part of believes is power only given 1) by God to these demonic forces 2) for our own good and 3) for His own glory. That is,

1) "The power delegated to the demons at certain appointed and well-adjusted season"--God grants this power. Demonic forces can do nothing of their own free will, as we have seen already, God is sovereign even over evil.
2) "This power is found to be not merely harmless, but even useful to the Church, completing as it does the number of martyrs, whom the city of God esteems as all the more illustrious and honored citizens, because they have striven even to blood against the sin of impiety;" That which the demons intended for evil is turned to good by the Divine plan of God for the growth and advancement of His church.
3) "Our heroes, if we could so call them, overcome Hêrê, not by suppliant gifts, but by divine virtues." The triumph of the church over demonic powers comes not through any inherent strength in us, but by the Divinely given gifts. This suggests that the final glory for this victory comes not ultimately to us, but to the Source and Giver of those gifts, Jesus Christ. Not that we get nothing, of course! In the union with God which He bought for us we receive eternal joy and delight in His presence, while He gets all the praise for having accomplished this great work!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"City of God" X.16-17

Chapter 16:
If we have to choose between angels who encourage us to worship the one true God and angels (well, "angels") who encourage us to worship themselves, is there any rational being that can say we should obey the latter? One sign of angelic powers working in favor of the truth is that they direct us to the one true God.
But what of the miracles worked by the other angels? The standard is the same--anything which turns us to the true God is of God, anything which turns us to false gods is demonic in origin.

Chapter 17:
If we want proof, we need only look at how the miracles surrounding the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament highlight the glory and power and worth of God.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"City of God" X.13-15

Chapter 13:
God communicates Himself to the world not as He is in His essential nature (which is infinite and as such beyond our comprehension in any case), but as we are capable of receiving. This means He provides a visible appearance for our eyes, a sound for our ears, and a body of laws through a mediator (Moses, to the Jews). Calvin says that this is God speaking to us as we speak to infants and children, not as we really are but as they can understand us. God even in His communication condescends to us.

Chapter 14:
We must not, however, confuse this physical appearance with a strictly natural religion. The point of these physical and temporal experiences was not that we should look for material prosperity, but that our eyes should be lifted beyond the physical to heaven and to the worship of God Himself. But God did not reveal this all at once, choosing instead to gradually, over time, reveal the nature of true religion and proper worship in history.

Chapter 15:
So when God speaks to angels, it is not as He does to us when He speaks to mankind's physical ears. Rather it is the communion of spiritual beings, His will transmitting itself to their minds, and their minds translating instantly to will, delight, and action.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"City of God" X.11-12

Chapter 11:
The neo-Platonists (especially Porphyry) seem to understand that something is amiss in their view of the spiritual world, but despite asking all the right questions just can't quite seem to come to the correct conclusion. Instead, they remain lost in speculation and inane musings and never come to the truth of the Christian faith. (Though of course some do by grace--Augustine himself among them.)

Chapter 12:
In contrast to these false speculations, the Christian God stands as the Lord of creation and existence, creating and shaping all things by His power and according to His will. We know this is true because of the miracles He works, though of course from His perspective these are not "miracles" so much as they are "pre-planned displays of Divine power and wisdom." This includes the miracle of creation itself:
But, as the Creator Himself is hidden and incomprehensible to man, so also is the manner of creation.  Although, therefore, the standing miracle of this visible world is little thought of, because always before us, yet, when we arouse ourselves to contemplate it, it is a greater miracle than the rarest and most unheard-of marvels.  For man himself is a greater miracle than any miracle done through his instrumentality.  Therefore God, who made the visible heaven and earth, does not disdain to work visible miracles in heaven or earth, that He may thereby awaken the soul which is immersed in  things visible to worship Himself, the Invisible.  But the place and time of these miracles are dependent on His unchangeable will, in which things future are ordered as if already they were accomplished.  For He moves things temporal without Himself moving in time, He does not in one way know things that are to be, and, in another, things that have been; neither does He listen to those who pray otherwise than as He sees those that will pray.  For, even when His angels hear us, it is He Himself who hears us in them, as in His true temple not made with hands, as in those men who are His saints; and His answers, though accomplished in time, have been arranged by His eternal appointment.
 The absolute sovereignty of God and His will for human (and all) existence is the Christian response to the call from the world to worship false gods.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"City of God" X.9-10

Chapter 9-10:
The point of miracles in the Bible is to prove that God alone ought to be worshiped and to rebuke the practices of magicians, necromancers, and other miracles-workers (including those praised by the neo-Platonists). All such practices spring from demonic powers, and cannot provide the moral purity of soul that they promise.

Friday, May 2, 2014

"City of God" X.6-8

Chapter 6:
For Christians in the post-New Testament era, we find that "sacrifice" which we perform is the giving of ourselves up to God through the blood of Christ and the for our own happiness and the good of our neighbor.
Even more, as a whole the body of Christian believers--"the whole of that redeemed city, that is, the congregation or communion of saints" is itself a sacrifice--"offered as a universal sacrifice to God through the High Priest who, 'taking the form of a servant,' offered Himself in His passion for us that we might be the body of so glorious a Head." This unity as a sacrifice is what we commemorate in Communion, "in which it is clear to the Church that she herself is offered in the very offering she makes to God."

I'll confess, I'm not sure exactly what to do with this view of communion. I think it's true, but I also think it needs clarification. That is, we should see in communion a reminder of the unity of the body of believers around the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But the point is that at the end of the day, communion is primarily a picture of Christ, not of the church.
Of course, the follow-up point to that is that Christ has so joined Himself to the church that Scripture uses the language of one body with Jesus as the Head and us as the body, so maybe we're back to Augustine's phrasing after all...

Chapter 7-8:
Again, the point of all this is that we should worship God alone, and no other creature in all of creation.
The immortal and blessed spirits who are deservedly established in heavenly abodes and rejoice in communion with their Creator are rooted in His eternity, certain in His truth, and sanctified by His grace. In their compassion they love us unhappy mortals and long for us to become both immortal and happy, and, therefore, they do not wish us to offer sacrifice to them but to God, knowing as they do that, along with us, they are his sacrifice.
So much for the Platonists, or for anyone who would distract us with devotion to any other being. If we need proof, we need only look to the pages of Scripture where sign after miraculous sign confirms the great truth that God alone is to be praised.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"City of God" X.3-5

Chapter 3:
Because all human beings desire to be happy, we must pursue union with God. We must be united with Him who "is the source of our happiness and the very end of all our aspirations." This can only be done as we are cleansed of sin evil and with us "sanctifying ourselves by His name." All of this, in turn, happens only when we worship the true God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone. The Platonists know some of this truth, but by interposing between God and man spirits (good angels or wicked demons or virtuous men, it doesn't really matter which) they miss out on salvation and "become vain in their thoughts."

Christians, on the other hand, have fellowship with God because of Christ not by any sacrifice on any altar in this world, but through a repentant heart: "When raised to Him, our heart becomes His altar; His only Son is the priest who wins for us His favor."

The logical conclusion of this truth is that we love others when we encourage them to love God.
For, to love one's own self is nothing but to wish to be happy, and the standard is union with God. When, therefore, a person who knows how to love himself is bidden to love his neighbor as himself, is he not, in effect, commanded to persuade others, as far as he can, to love God? 
Our obedience to the command "love God" comes when we pursue our greatest happiness in fellowship with God (loving God). Our obedience to the command "love thy neighbor" comes when we encourage others to do the same. (Again, one has to think of the ministry of John Piper.)

The consequence is that when any being is perfectly happy, if it loves us it must wish us to share that happiness, and so it must wish us to worship God as well:
This, then, is the worship of God; this is true religion and the right kind of piety; this is the service that is due only to God. It follows, therefore, that if any immortal power, however highly endowed with virtue, loves us as itself, it must wish us to be subject, for our own happiness, to Him in submission to whom it finds its happiness. If, then, this spirit does not worship God, it is unhappy because deprived of God, and if it worships God, it cannot wish to be worshiped in place of Him. Rather will such a spirit acknowledge, in loving allegiance, that divine decision which runs 'He that sacrificeth to gods, shall be put to death, save only to the Lord.'
What do we say about the good intermediate spirits that the Platonists would have us worship? We say that if they are truly virtuous and truly obedient to the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" then they can wish for nothing else than for us to worship God alone rather than themselves. To switch to Christian language, the angels and the Christians in heaven realize that to fail to worship God is to be "unhappy because deprived of God." Even more, because they are perfectly happy in their worship of God, they cannot desire our prayers or supplications--such a being "cannot wish to be worshiped in place of Him."

If that's not enough, when the heavenly beings, the angels and the gathered Church in heaven, see someone worshiping any being other than God they admit "in loving allegiance" that the person is worthy of death. From a heavenly perspective the the true moral horror of treating any created being like God cannot be obscured by the false sentimentalism we encounter in the world. If you try to be happy by any means other than directly appealing to God through the blood of Jesus Christ, all the heavenly beings to whom you have appealed for intercession will cry out judgment against you.

Chapter 4-5:
We all admit that sacrifice is due to God alone, as has been the case since the time of Cain and Abel.
This is not, however, to say that sacrifices were without purpose. The Old Testament sacrifices, for example, were beneficial to man:
And the fact that the ancient church offered animal sacrifices, which the people of God now-a-days read of without imitating, proves nothing else than this, that those sacrifices signified the things which we do for the purpose of drawing near to God, and inducing our neighbor to do the same.  A sacrifice, therefore, is the visible sacrament or sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice.
Of course sacrificing does God no practical good--"For no man would say he did a benefit to a fountain by drinking, or to the light by seeing"--but it did us a service by teaching us about the true sacrifice that would be offered on the cross. Over and over for a millennium the Old Testament believers were shown the grisly picture of animals slaughtered on the altar and told this was what they deserved, and yet not a single sin was forgiven as a result of all that bloodshed. Instead, God's people were being taught by means of a symbol the truth about forgiveness and mercy. We are saved not by the shedding of blood of bulls and rams, but by a broken and contrite spirit that repents of sin and embraces in faith the true sacrifice of Jesus Christ.