Another excerpt from Faith and Life for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is this one from Augustine of Hippo:
The citizens of the Heavenly Jerusalem are all the sanctified men that have been, and that are, and that will be; and all the sanctified spirits, even all those that in the heights of heaven obey God with pious devotion, and do not imitate the impious pride of the devil and his angels. The King of this city is our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, by whom the highest Angels are governed, and the Word assuming manhood that by Him men also might be governed, who will all reign together with Him in eternal peace.
–St. Augustine on Catechizing the Simple, c. 20.
This Lent, let us ensure our heavenly passports are validated.
From Faith and Life, here is a reading from St. Augustine for the Fourth Sunday in Lent:
Let us turn our thoughts to Him who wrought this miracle. He is Himself the Bread that came down from heaven; but a Bread which feeds us, and does not fail; a Bread which can be eaten, but cannot be eaten up. Manna, also, was a symbol of Himself as Bread. Wherefore it is said; “He gave them the Bread of Heaven; man did eat Angels’ Bread.” What is the Bread of Heaven, but Christ? But that man might eat the bread of Angels, the Lord of Angels became Man. For if He had not become Man, we should not have His Flesh; if we had not His Flesh, we should not eat the Bread of the Altar. Let us hasten to our inheritance, because hereby we have received a great pledge of it. O my brethren, let us long after the life of Christ, because we hold the death of Christ as a pledge. How will He not give us His good things, who has suffered our evil things? What did He receive? That which abounds here— to be born, to suffer, and to die. And what has He given? To be born again, to rise again, and to reign for ever.
–St. Augustine, Sermon cxxx.
He came to Earth, that we might gain Heaven.
Via David Ould, I found out about Ideas that Changed the World, a course about four ideas that shaped the Reformation (faith alone, grace alone, Bible alone and Christ alone) and four leaders who advocated and taught those ideas – Luther, Calvin, Tyndale and Cranmer. David has written an exemplary review and I hope you will read it and consider using Ideas that Changed the World.
Recently I came across the Vinea Dei blog, by Gyordano Montenegro Brasilino from Brazil. He has written a number of posts that I think are worth reading, and although he writes in Portuguese I am amazed as to how well Google is able to translate them into English! One post that I wanted to mention is Oração e santificação, or in English, “Prayer and Sanctification”. The author has graciously granted me permission to reproduce it in English here and I think you will find it edifying.
Prayer and sanctification
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, so also work your salvation with fear and trembling; For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do according to his good pleasure “ (Philippians 2:12-13)
Augustine’s famous prayer, “Domine, da quod iubes et iube quod vis” (Lord, give what you command and command whatever you want), captures the essence of the plea for holiness as taught in the Scriptures. If he gives us what he requires, there is no limit to what he may require. His demands are satisfied by what he gives us; as long as he gives us, he will be satisfied. Our own limitations become as irrelevant, since God is able to do even more than what we ask or imagine. Yet we are wholly dependent upon them; If he does not grant us his sanctifying grace, we will not go anywhere. We can only beg.
Holiness of life is formed by God in us. The essence of prayer is that our holiness depends, in its origin, on God, and not on us. This prayer is preceded by the words: “And all my hope is but in thy exceeding great mercy” ( Confessions , X).
This certainly contradicts many of our modern sensibilities. In many situations, we like to feel like autonomous, independent people who make their own decisions and act on them. I do not mean by this that there is no such thing as free will, but surely our agency is not free to make us act as we wish. Our prayer only makes sense if God is our provider.
But when we deny the divine omnipotence over our own actions and virtue, our life of sanctification becomes an empty moralism. When we pray, we tell God what we want, or even what we should want , in the hope that He will do it for us. To pray is to recognize our inability and the sovereign power of God – we believe, not that he could simply do , but that he will.
That’s how prayers are done in the Scriptures. The Psalms are, as in all situations, a great school of prayer if you deal with them in the mind of Christ.The petition for holiness is in some of the most famous psalms: the one praying asks God to keep him from pride (Ps 19:13), create in him a pure heart and an unwavering and voluntary spirit (51:10,12 ), don’t let him run from God’s commandemnts (119:10), incline his heart to those commandments, and not to covetousness (119:36), let no iniquity rule him (119:133), let not the heart bow to the Evil (Psalm 141:4). These are not empty hopes. The Psalmist knows that God dominates even over his own heart.
In the Pauline letters, in which the love of a shepherd for his sheep is revealed in prayer, Paul asks and expects that God will grant them unanimity (Rom. 15: 5,6), that they do no evil, but good ( 2Co 13: 7 ), that hearts and thoughts be kept in Christ (Philippians 4:7), that mutual love may grow, confirming hearts and making them blameless in holiness ( 1 Thessalonians 3:12), that they become ( 2Ti 1:11 ), that they may be strengthened in every good word and deed ( 2Ti 2: 16,17 ) and that hearts be directed in love and in patience (2Ti 3: 5 ).
On the other hand, stripped of the kind of cooperation the Scriptures require, this notion can become an excuse for relaxation. Christ makes us blameless (1Co.18 : 8) according to his election ( Eph.1: 4), and yet requires us to strive to be blameless ( 2 Pet. 3:14 ). In a beautiful image, Aquinas describes this cooperation as there is between a hammer and the blacksmith. Our prayer only makes sense if God is our provider and yet we work for the daily bread.
Although it is not easy to understand what role man accomplishes in everything, our cooperation is not something we add, but something that God adds to us. As the apostle Paul writes in Fp. 2: 12,13 , we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but even this something that God accomplishes in us: “without me you can do nothing” ( John 15: 5 ).
Here is the next in a good series of audio sermons on the Book of Genesis from the Rev. Coty Pinckney of Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Its title is True Faith: Clinging to God and it is based on Genesis 32. The sermon text introduces the topic as follows:
What is true, saving faith?
How can you tell if someone is truly saved?
How can you tell if YOU are saved?
Suppose you have a friend – call him George. George goes to church occasionally. He prays occasionally – especially during the crises in his life. George now has a job and owns a house, and he acknowledges that these are gifts from God.
Is George saved?
Does he have saving faith in Jesus?
How do you go about finding answers to such questions?
Those are important questions, indeed – and you can see what Rev. Pinckney has to say about them in his message on the life of Jacob.
Years ago I came across the tune Thaxted by Gustav Holst (actually, it is part of the “Jupiter” movement from The Planets) and really liked it. As it happens, I have now found a hymn based on this music, titled “O God Beyond All Praising”- and here it is performed by the Villanova University Pastoral Musicians.
I cannot say that I am very familiar with Matt Scott, who is the senior pastor of The Gathering Place church near Birmingham – but this message, “Dealing With Anxiety”, could be quite helpful for some who struggle with anxiety. In this message, Rev. Scott talks about how we can identify and ultimately eliminate the stress and anxiety that constantly weighs us down in our life – from a Biblical perspective.
For the Third Sunday in Lent, here is another selection from Faith and Life: readings compiled from ancient writers that I have posted before:
II. THE DANGER OF RELAPSE.
“What, then,” it will be asked, “does the devil now tempt no one of the faithful, because he will be cast out of the hearts of the faithful?” Yes, indeed, he does not cease to tempt. But it is one thing to reign within, another to assail from without; for sometimes an enemy assails a city thoroughly fortified, but he does not take it. And if any darts shot by him reach us, the Apostle instructs us how they may be kept from hurting us; he mentions “the breastplate and shield of faith’.” And if the devil sometimes wounds us, there is One at hand who heals. For as it is said- to those who are fighting, “These things I write unto you, that ye sin not;” so those that are wounded hear what follows, “And if any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; He is the propitiation for our sins.” For what do we pray for when we say, “Forgive us our trespasses,” except that our wounds may be healed? And what else do we beg when we say, “And lead us not into temptation,” but that he who is plotting against us, or contending externally to us, may not break in at any point, may not be able to overcome us by force or by fraud? But whatsoever engines he may direct against us,—when he does not occupy the place of our heart where faith dwells, he has been cast out. But “unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Do not then presume on your own strength, if you do not wish to call the devil in again, after he has been cast out.
–St. Augustine on St. John’s Gospel
I definitely see here a warning against being overconfident in our own ability to withstand temptation.
One reading for the Third Sunday in Lent from the book Faith and Life: readings compiled from ancient writers is this selection from St. Augustine:
I. LIGHT IN THE LORD.
IF “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all,” and if we ought to have fellowship with Him, the darkness must be expelled from us, that light may be kindled in us; for darkness can have no fellowship with light; therefore see what follows, “But if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie;” and you have the Apostle Paul saying, “What communion hath light with darkness?” Therefore let a man now say to himself, “What shall I do? how shall I become light? I live in sins and iniquities. A feeling of despair and gloom steals over me. There is no salvation except in fellowship with God. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. But sins are darkness; iniquities are darkness. We are pressed down by iniquities, so that we cannot have fellowship with God; what hope then have we? what will become of us?” Let us listen, if haply He will comfort and uplift us, and give us hope, lest we faint by the way. For we are hastening to our Country; and if we despair of reaching it, we faint from our very despair. But He who wishes us to reach it, feeds us by the way, that He may preserve us in the Country. “But if we walk in the light, as He also is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” Let us walk in the light, as He is in the light, that we may be able to have fellowship with Him. And what shall we do about our sins? Hear what follows; “And the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” It is great ease of mind that God has given us. The devil once held a bond of slavery against us, but it was obliterated by the Blood of Christ. If you have confessed your sins, truth is in you; for truth itself is light. Your life is not yet perfectly lustrous, for sins are there; but yet you now begin to be illuminated, for confession of sins is there.
–St. Augustine on First Epistle of St. John, Tr. i.
One thing for certain: 1 John 1:9 is one of the most hopeful passages in Scripture – an antidote for despair.