Christian certainty in the Purpose of God: Augustine’s City of God

June 29, 2018 by Joe Small

Augustine’s City of God is a tour de force, tracing the pilgrim City of God’s movement among the ungodly. Augustine examines the course of the two cities created by two loves. “The one, therefore, glories in itself, the other in the Lord; the one seeks glory from men, the other finds its highest glory in God, the Witness of our conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” (XIV,28)

Modern readers find The City of God against
the Pagans intimidating (nearly 1,200 pages), sometimes tedious (lengthy refutations of pagan religions long since dead), often discerning (reading Scripture as a cohesive whole), and always both challenging and comforting. Augustine wrote in a perilous time for the Roman empire and a perplexing time for the church, urging Christian certainty in the Purpose of God.

We also live in times that are perilous for the polis and perplexing for the church. Presbyterian anxiety about contraction, structure, division, and loss of cultural prominence are compounded by anxiety about money. I am intrigued by a brief paragraph in The City of God that looks at the church’s money and what money buys from a perspective that is unfamiliar in an age of ecclesiastical funds development.

God’s providence procures for that City [of God] both the consolation of material prosperity, so that she is not broken by adversity, and the discipline of adversity so that she is not corrupted by prosperity. And He tempers the one with the other in such a way that we here recognize the source of that saying in the psalm, ‘According to the multitude of my griefs in my heart, Thy consolations have delighted my soul.’

Augustine reminded me of a prayer in The Worshipbook, a predecessor of the BCW that is criticized for its informal language, but that is usually on the mark:

Righteous God: you have taught us that the poor shall have your kingdom, and that the gentle-minded shall inherit the earth. Keep the church poor enough to preach to poor people, and humble enough to walk with the despised. Never weigh us down with real estate or too much cash on hand. Save your church from vain display or lavish comforts, so that, travelling light, we may move through the world showing your generous love, made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Stewardship Kaleidoscope

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