Augustine – inspires us to recognise how sinful we are and how marvellous God’s grace
354 – 430
Augustine was born near Hippo, in what is now Algeria. His father, not a Christian at the time, worked hard to get Augustine the best education available in Carthage. Augustine demonstrated a growing brilliance in rhetoric, but also a growing pride and ungodliness. Carthage was, in Augustine’s words, “a hissing cauldron of lust” – and he dived right in! He kept a girl living with him for many years – essentially for sex.
However, God used this season in Carthage to shake Augustine awake to realise there is more to life than carnal pleasure; he began reading and seeking after truth. However, it wasn’t until, aged 29, he moved to Rome to teach, that God changed his heart. In Rome, Augustine met the great Bishop Ambrose and listened to his teaching. One day, aged 32, Augustine read Romans 13:13-14, ‘let us behave decently as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not is sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh’; he was convicted of his sin and his need of Christ to save him and was born again – he writes of how “In an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.” His mother, who had prayed for him all her life, must have been overjoyed.
Augustine’s testimony of coming to faith in the gospel, recorded in his classic little book, Confessions, laid the foundation for how God would use him in later life. He was eventually called to be Bishop of Hippo, where he would remain the rest of his life, preaching and teaching about the grace of God – in particular, contending with ‘Pelagian’ heresies. Pelagius was a British monk of Augustine’s time, who taught that at its core, human nature is good and able to achieve salvation through our own good works. Augustine however, carefully studying the Bible and himself powerfully transformed only by the grace of God, recognised the ‘original sin’ of our human nature. He realised we are not only guilty of our own sins, but also incapable of pure behaviour because we have inherited a sinful human nature.
However religious we try to be, we are therefore completely unable to save ourselves – and entirely dependent on God’s sovereign saving grace for our salvation – which glorifies him. Augustine wrote many volumes of work defending these biblical truths – knowing that only in God’s free grace is true and lasting joy and rest to be found.