From cessationism to joy – how a healing increased Augustine’s understanding of God’s grace

The turnaround from sin to grace, from worldliness to trusting Christ, wasn’t the only change Augustine experienced.  Earlier in his Christian life he had believed that miracles had ended when the first apostles died, but he rejected his former position as untenable following the dramatic and supernatural healing of a friend of his who had cancer. From then on he felt duty bound to publicise accounts of healings.

He was shocked that his close friend had kept her healing a secret and wrote:

“I was indignant that so astounding a miracle, performed in so important a city, and on a person far from obscure, should have been kept a secret like this; and I thought it right to admonish her and to speak to her with some sharpness on the matter.”

Bruce Shelley, Senior Professor of church history at Denver Seminar, writes:
‘Augustine’s hope was that, as apostolic miracles had aided the growth of the early church, miracles in his own day would draw people to Christianity.

Augustine’s exuberance for true miracles in City of God [one of Augustine’s many books] shows that he no longer saw them as sham spirituality but as physical manifestations of God’s work in the world.

He wrote, “What do these miracles attest but the faith which proclaims that Christ rose in the flesh and ascended into heaven with the flesh? … God may himself perform them by himself, through that wonderful operation of his power whereby, being eternal, he is active in temporal events; or he may effect them through the agency of his servants… Be that as it may, they all testify to the faith in which the resurrection to eternal life is proclaimed.”’ (Bruce Shelley, Christian History Magazine, Issue 67)

The Dark Ages

Throughout the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ many evangelising monks spread the gospel, some with signs following (eg, Bede and Cuthbert) and brought the grace of God to many.

At this time fervent Christianity was often found amongst those believers, including monks and nuns, who had personally experienced the grace of God, but their books and documents are not always easy to read being so intermingled with extra-biblical references and practices.

Nevertheless, the light was still shining (see John 1:5) and an increasing number of individuals were beginning to speak up against the growing abuses of privilege amongst the priesthood and a gradual call for reform began to be heard across Europe.

For more on Augustine click here

© 2008 Lex Loizides

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‘Lord make me pure but not yet!’ – Augustine’s wayward prayer!

Augustine by Botticelli
Augustine by Sandro Botticelli (1480)

Augustine was a radical convert to Christianity! He was born in Tagaste (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria) in 354 and died in Hippo Regius (modern Annaba) in 431.

The Son of so Many Tears!

Augustine’s confessions make interesting reading!  He was the young man who prayed “Lord, make me chaste (sexually pure) – but not yet!”

He became a great intellectual, a professor of Rhetoric in the city of Milan. He lived in relative luxury and enjoyed a life of sin.  His mother, Monica, was a committed Chrstian and prayed earnestly for his conversion calling him ‘the son of so many tears’.

One afternoon as he was sitting in his garden he overheard some children singing ‘Take up and read!  Take up and read!’  He became inwardly convinced by the Spirit that he should read the New Testament.

He began reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, received powerful revelation of God’s grace in the gospel and was converted.  He then became the most zealous exponent of grace of his era, finally settling in Hippo where he became bishop.

st-augustine-botticelli

F.F. Bruce writes:
‘It has often been remarked that the Biblical doctrine of divine grace, God’s unmerited favour shown to sinful humanity, so clearly (as we might think) expounded in the teaching of Christ and the writings of Paul, seems almost to go underground in the post-apostolic age, to reappear only with Augustine.

Certainly the majority of Christian writers who flourished between the apostles and Augustine do not seem to have grasped what Paul was really getting at in his contention that God’s forgiveness and salvation are bestowed entirely as a free gift, by His unconditioned grace.’  (‘The Spreading Flame’, Paternoster  p.334)

Augustine is a notable example of many who had nevertheless grasped the truth of God’s grace and sought to preach it consistently. Next time we’ll see how Augustine’s presumption that the age of miracles had ceased was radically changed – by an unexpected act of God’s power.

To see how a miracle changes Augustine’s thinking, click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

The Light Shines in the Darkness – an introduction to the ‘Dark Ages’

Augustine by Botticelli, a fresco from the Church of Ognissanti, Florence

Church history is the record of God’s ability to break in and bring change. And the goal of The Church History Blog is that you would be so inspired by the past, and so motivated by accounts of God’s faithfulness and power, that you would re-engage in the great commission with refreshed faith for your world today.

Knowing that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8) gives us great confidence as we seek to glorify His name and be a genuine blessing in the various nations in which God has placed us.

Focussing on highlights also means that we can jump to the heroes and heroines quickly rather than merely run through dates and names.

In this post we enter a period which has been called the ‘Dark Ages’, dating roughly from the fourth to the sixteenth century. It is doubtful, however, that they were totally dark! I say that because of what we read in John 1:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:1-5 ESV emphasis added)

Notice the change of tense in verse 5. Verses 1-4 are all past tense, but verse 5 propels us into the historical present with the statement that ‘the light shines in the darkness’.

No matter what period of history, no matter what cultural context, the light shines – that is, the unstoppable power of the life of Jesus Christ keeps shining! We need to remember that as we look at periods of history when the church was persecuted, outlawed or where reliable sources are hard to find. And maybe that’s an encouragement to you in your current context.

During these ‘dark ages’ many zealous and effective Christians were at work, preaching the gospel, planting churches and seeing many come to Christ.  How effective they were will probably not be known until Heaven.

Some commentators have sought to help us understand these times by suggesting that there existed the ‘Institutional Church’ and the ‘Inspirational Church’, or the ‘Pilgrim Church’ (E.H. Broadbent – ‘The Pilgrim Church’, Pickering and Inglis).

As the spread of the institutional church increased so, tragically, what we would now understand to be evangelical Christianity was systematically suppressed.

We’ll look at some of the incredible stories of heroes who stood valiantly for Christ. When you have a single denomination that declares itself to be the only means by which salvation can come to the world, and the only guardian of the Christian gospel then you know you’re in trouble. And trouble there was!

But before we get there we’ll briefly look at one young man whose influence was immense once his conversion was complete – and once he realised that his now famous prayer would not be answered by a holy God!

The prayer? ‘Lord, make me chaste (sexually pure), but not yet!’

The man? Augustine

Read about Augustine here

© 2008 Lex Loizides