A Lesson on Love From Augustine
From Taste and See by John Piper
Few people in the history of the church have surpassed St. Augustine in portraying the greatness and beauty and desirability of God. He is utterly persuaded by Scripture and experience “that he is happy who possesses God.” “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you.” He will labor with all his might to make this God of sovereign grace and sovereign joy known and loved in the world.
“You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need… You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain. You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same… You welcome those who come to you though you never lost them. You are never in need yet are glad to gain, never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts… you release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you!” (Augustine, Confessions, I,4)
If it is true, as R.C. Sproul says, that today “we have not broken free from the Pelagian captivity of the church,” then we should pray and preach and write and teach and labor with all our might to break the chain that holds us captive. Pelagius, a monk from Britain, was a popular preacher in Rome in AD 401-409. He was an archenemy of Augustine because he rejected the notion that the human will was enslaved by sin and needed special grace to trust Christ and do good. He recoiled at Augustine’s prayer, “Give me the grace [O Lord] to do as you command, and command me to do what you will!” (Confession, X, 31). R.C. Sproul says, “We need an Augustine or a Luther to speak to us anew lest the light of God’s grace be not only overshadowed but be obliterated in our time”
Yes, we do. But we also need tens of thousands of ordinary pastors, who are ravished with the extraordinary sovereignty of joy that belongs to and comes from God alone. And we need to rediscover Augustine’s peculiar slant – a very biblical slant – on grace as the great gift of sovereign joy in God that frees us from the bondage of sin. We need to rethink our Reformed view of salvation so that every limb and every branch in the tree is coursing with the sap of Augustinian delight.
We need to make plain that total depravity is not just badness, but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy; and unconditional election means that the completeness of our joy in Jesus was planned for us before we ever existed; and that limited atonement is the assurance that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured for us by the blood of the covenant; and irresistible grace is the commitment and power of God’s love to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free by the sovereign power of superior delights; and that the perseverance of the saints is the almighty work of God to keep us, through all affliction and suffering, for an inheritance of pleasures at God’s right hand forever.
This note of sovereign, triumphant joy is a missing element in too much Reformed theology and Reformed worship. And it may be that the question we should pose ourselves is whether this is so because we have not experienced the triumph of sovereign joy in our own lives. Can we say the following with Augustine?
How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!… You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place… O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation. (Confessions, IX, 1)
Or are we in bondage to the pleasures of this world so that, for all our talk about the glory of God, we love television and food and sleep and sex and money and human praise just like everybody else? If so, let us repent and fix our faces like flint toward the Word of God in prayer: Oh Lord, open my eyes to see the sovereign sight that in your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11).