St. Augustine’s Confessions, part 3
Yesterday, I introduced Book 2 of Augustine’s Confessions by focusing on the issue of cultivating affections. Happily for me, since this is a theological issue near and dear to my heart, nearly every quote or passage I highlighted and/or copied into my commonplace book related in some way to the issue of affections.
Augustine, however, spends significant time exploring other theological concepts, including the fact that God disciplines (chastens) those whom he loves. This is a biblical truth that is never far from my heart and my thoughts. From time to time, I will remind my children about this paradigmatic truth — not only as a means of helping them see the big picture of parental discipline, but also to help remind them of the larger biblical framework: God does not forsake his children, and one evidence of that is that he is devotedly committed to reshaping our hearts and attitudes through any means possible. So what might look like unfairness or injustice or wickedness at the hands of an enemy simultaneously can be evidence that God is re-fashioning a broken part of our heart. Yes, it hurts, and yes, it’s fruitful.
Now, back to our brilliant 4th/5th century theologian. In Book 2 of Confessions, Augustine is still an unconverted pagan. And yet he still draws the connection between paternal discipline and paternal love. Here is where we need to remember Spurgeon’s explanation of the miracle of prevenient grace! Decades after these painful, youthful experiences, Augustine writes as a humble man now devoted to the providences of God in life — providences that ultimately drew Augustine to the person of Christ:
For you were always with me, mercifully punishing me, touching with a bitter taste all my illicit pleasures. Your intention was that I should seek delights unspoilt by disgust and that, in my quest where I should achieve this, I should discover it to be in nothing except you Lord, nothing but you. You ‘fashion pain to be a lesson,’ you ‘strike to heal,’ you bring death upon us so that we should not die apart from you. (page 25)
In praise of faithful mothers!
Most of us have heard of Monica, Augustine’s mother who faithfully prayed for her pagan son for decades, even following him across continents to plead with him to examine his life, repent, and devote himself to the Lord. Many (many) motherly sermons and warnings preceded his ultimate conversion, and yet she did not grow weary, nor did her faith in God waver. Augustine remembers many of these maternal and passionate pleas for righteousness as words from the Lord himself:
Whose words were they but yours which you were chanting in my ears through my mother, your faithful servant?…But they were your warnings and I did not realize it. I believed you were silent and that it was only she who was speaking, when you were speaking to me through her. (page 27)