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.

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