As we mentioned at the beginning of the week, no other theologian, outside of the writers of the New Testament, has had as profound an impact on the Western church as Augustine. Both the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations look to Augustine as a father of the church. His writing heavily influenced the major doctrines of the faith. Let’s take a moment to look at his two most famous works, Confessions and The City of God.
We know much of Augustine’s life story from his own hand. He wrote Confessions as a prayer, addressing God. It was the first autobiography of its kind in the ancient world. In it, he confessed the sinfulness of his youth and how God brought him to faith through many years of pain. Sixteen hundred years later, we still resonate with his struggle over sin when we read his honest prayer, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.”
In reading this profound book we gain an understanding of his remorse over his own sin and of his deep love for God. We also catch a glimpse of his spiritual insight. He writes, “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” It’s no wonder that Augustine’s profound, deeply personal, and beautiful testimony continues to inspire Christians today.
the city of god
The fall of Rome in 410 sent shock waves through the ancient world. It’s hard for us to grasp how unfathomable this event must have seemed. If you live in the United States, your government has stayed steadily in place for almost 240 years. Before the Visigoths came, the city of Rome had stood untouched by a foreign enemy for nearly 800 years.
Roman refugees sought sanctuary in other cities, including Hippo. Augustine welcomed them and sought to console them. The refugees brought stories of the unbelievable destruction they had seen, including how the pagan temples had been destroyed and ransacked. Many wondered if this turn of events was punishment for abandoning the old Roman gods for Christianity.
In response, Augustine wrote The City of God. He argued that there were two cities: the City of God, built on the love of God; and the city of earth, built on the love of self. While these cities comingled, ultimately, only the City of God would remain because it is built on the love of God. Every human city would ultimately fall as a natural result of its sin, but only after God had allowed it to serve His purposes. In the case of Rome, God allowed the empire to flourish while the gospel spread. Now that this purpose was fulfilled, the city built on the love of self and sin fell to the Visigoths. Augustine’s writings assured Christians that the fall of Rome was in line with God’s plan and under His sovereign control.
Augustine’s writings brought guidance to a church struggling to understand and adjust after the largest political crisis of their time. His words shaped how Christians thought of history for generations to come. To this day, The City of God is studied as a hallmark of Western civilization.
For someone with such keen intellectual insight, Augustine clearly saw the truths of sin and grace through the lens of his own life story. He lived and breathed the gospel in his life and his work.
How do we look at our own life stories in the light of the major truths of sin and grace?
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