Pastoral Confessions

One of the most influential books in my life was written by a pastor in North Africa at the tail end of the fourth century. He was by all accounts the most influential pastor outside of the Apostle Paul. This pastor’s name was Aurelius Augustine (A.D. 354-430). His work simply titled “Confessions” was his autobiographical account of his journey from sin to Savior. Never had there been such a psychologically driven autobiographic account. Every enemy of the church in the years leading to Augustine’s work had included enemies that were external such as the Roman Empire, or the pagan culture, or even the physical manifestation of demons as with St. Antony.

However, what Augustine brought to the forefront was the most dramatic shift – the enemy is not external to us, but within our very hearts. His giftedness was a bright shining star to the church down throughout the ages. Augustine himself was the champion of the middle ages, being the most quoted source by Thomas Aquinas in his magnum opus Summa Theologiae. Those medieval monks who were most sympathetic to Augustine, formed an order in his name, dubbing themselves Augustinians, from which our dear Protestant Reformer Martin Luther was found. But the Reformation saw itself as a return to the teachings of this brilliant theologian. John Calvin, father to Presbyterianism, and one of the main foundations to Reformed thought, cited Augustine over 4000x himself in his many volumes.

What does this all have to do with you though? None of us, I imagine, will ever leave behind a series of writings to be pondered several thousand years later. So how does this make a difference to us today? Augustine was most effective, not because of his rigorous training in the best of classical Latin rhetoric. Nor was he the most useful because he had engaged and critiqued the very best of that philosophy had to offer. Instead he was useful because he was able to examine the deepest mines of his darkened heart, and see what a sad estate it was in. But he did so only through the light of Jesus Christ, which heals as it reveals.

Have you ever found it hard to come to Christ? Have you found it hard to believe in what God has said in Scripture? It’s remarkable that we have such control over our bodies that we can draw a cup to our lips if we are thirsty, we can bite a morsel of food when we are hungry, and yet we seem so powerless against the sin that dwells within us. Looking again to Augustine’s Confessions, we can grasp for a moment the waltz in his heart as he writes. There’s an elegant shift between autobiography, introspection, and prayer – and the three are in an unceasing continuum. In the midst of such a twirl he notes, “[God] You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You. Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us. Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

God is not far from us today. In fact, Scripture reminds us most basically that He’s as near to us now, as He’s always been, and ever shall be. But we are not wholly committed to Him. We are fascinated with evil, more concerned with our selfish passions than looking to Him. These are heavy words to receive today because we live in such a time where it is more wicked to point out evil than it is to commit it. And yet, what I love so much about reflecting on the words of Augustine is that very little has changed in the affairs of our world.

Today we do not don togas or speak in Latin. We claim to be so advanced because of our technology, and medical advances, our achievements in this and that. But at the end of the day we are still the same. We are all being led by our hearts. That is a given. The only question we have to wrestle with is where are they leading us? Our hearts were made to worship the triune God of Scripture. Simply put, everything and everyone else will leave us wanting and some of you may know that well. If you feel that void in your chest today, that sense of dissatisfaction and need, I commend you to heartily consider one the most famous sentences in all of Western Christianity, penned by my dear friend Augustine, and that you would consider the estate of your own heart. Augustine writes, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” I pray that you might know Christ, might commit yourself to Him and His people, and sing for joy in a local congregation like ours so that you might rest in Him.

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