Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Salt: Augustine's Gratitude for How God Kept Him From Sin

Augustine of Hippo was one of the greatest writers of the Early Church. Living from the fourth century to the first third of the fifth century, he was schooled in the classical philosophy and rhetoric of the Roman centers of learning, but also lived to see the fall of Rome. He didn't embrace Christ until age 32, first pursuing various philosophies and even having a mistress through whom he fathered a child. After converting, he ended up producing some of the most important works ever written in the Church. In the Confessions (free online editions and links), Augustine describes the process of his early life and his slow transition to Christianity, and examines the struggle with sin and the ways the human mind and body are tested and tempted.

The following passage left a deep impression on me when I first read it, and taught me that we have much more to be grateful for from God than just forgiveness for the sins we did commit:
"What shall I render unto the Lord for the fact that while my memory recalls these things my soul no longer fears them? I will love thee, O Lord, and thank thee, and confess to thy name, because thou hast put away from me such wicked and evil deeds. To thy grace I attribute it and to thy mercy, that thou hast melted away my sin as if it were ice. To thy grace also I attribute whatsoever of evil I did not commit--for what might I not have done, loving sin as I did, just for the sake of sinning? Yea, all the sins that I confess now to have been forgiven me, both those which I committed willfully and those which, by thy providence, I did not commit. What man is there who, when reflecting upon his own infirmity, dares to ascribe his chastity and innocence to his own powers, so that he should love thee less--as if he were in less need of thy mercy in which thou forgivest the transgressions of those that return to thee? As for that man who, when called by thee, obeyed thy voice and shunned those things which he here reads of me as I recall and confess them of myself, let him not despise me--for I, who was sick, have been healed by the same Physician by whose aid it was that he did not fall sick, or rather was less sick than I. And for this let him love thee just as much--indeed, all the more--since he sees me restored from such a great weakness of sin by the selfsame Saviour by whom he sees himself preserved from such a weakness."
Confessions [free online text], translated by Albert C. Outler (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), Book II, Ch. VII, 15.

The realization that God has not only forgiven us for every selfish and hurtful thing we have done, but also that it is God's mercy that kept us from doing even more terrible things than we did, taught me to appreciate more deeply how closely God protects us and how much we depend on Him to overcome sin. Left on our own, we would not resist sin. A good example of God's mercy in restraining sin can be found in Genesis 20:3-7, where God tells Abimelech that He was the one who kept Abimelech from sinning and incurring guilt when Abimelech unwittingly took Abraham's wife for a bride.

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