Aurelius Augustine Sets the Course of Christian Doctrine

Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was born on November 13 in Togaste, North Africa, in AD 354.

His father, Patricius was burgess of the town and a pagan, which set young Augustine toward a self-indulgent lifestyle. However his mother, Monica, was a Christian who devoted herself to prayer for both her husband and son. In years to come she saw both come to faith.

From his earliest days Monica instructed her son in the truth of Jesus Christ and initially her efforts appeared effective. When he fell ill he asked to be baptized, but he put the matter off once he recovered. He then threw aside all Christian principles and followed in his father’s sensual values. He had several mistresses, one which bore him a son, Adeodatus, whom he dearly loved.

While his mother prayed for him his ambition for knowledge led him eventually under the influence of Abrose in Milan. But not before he had become keenly devoted to several philosophies and heresies of the day. His demand for intellectual satisfaction saw his sour with each new hope of philosophic resolution. Meanwhile, however, he had gained a reputation as a teacher of rhetoric and was in some demand.

Thus Augustine came to Milan and came under the influence of Ambrose, of whom he said, “I was led to him unknowingly by God, that I might knowingly be led to God by him.” The main text that Ambrose pressed in those days was 2 Corinthians 3:6, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” This deeply impressed Augustine who was still questing for truth that liberated.

The testimony of Victorinus, a fellow teacher of rhetoric who converted to Christianity, shook Augustine. He told God, “I burned to imitate him. .… He appeared to me not so much brave as happy, because he had discovered an opportunity of waiting on You only. For this was what I was longing for, thus bound, not with the irons of another, but my own iron will.”

Augustine had given in to sensual desires and they now ruled him. He every attempt to transcend sin was defeated and he knew he was a slave to the chains of his own immoral choices. Desperate to come to faith he kept being pulled back by the fear of death to self and the total loss of all sensual addictions.

This is how Augustine described his slavery to evil self will. “The enemy held fast my will, and had made of it a chain, and had bound me tight with it. For out of the perverse will was lust made, and lust indulged in became habit, and habit not resisted became necessity. By these links, as it were, joined together (which is why I called it a ‘chain’), a hard bondage held me enthralled .… made strong by long indulgence.”

Unable to break free from his own evil choices Augustine ran into the garden and flung himself to the ground beneath a fig tree and there wept himself through repentance before God. He was then prompted by a voice telling him to “Take up and read” the Bible, which led him to Romans 8:13,14. “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof” He adds, “I had neither desire nor need to read farther. As I finished the sentence, as though the light of peace had been poured into my heart, all the shadows of doubt dispersed. Thus hast Thou converted me to Thee, so as no longer to seek either for wife or other hope of the world, standing fast in that rule of faith in which Thou so many years before hadst revealed me to my mother” (Confess., viii. 30).

Following his conversion Augustine sought a life of retirement and solitude. This became the basis for the monastic life which he later prescribed and which grew into the Augustinian order. After three years he went to Hippo to visit a friend and was there pressed by overwhelming popular demand to take the position of presbyter. He took the post and progressed from that to the position of Bishop of Hippo.

In that role he wrote extensively, contending with the popular heresies of the day, including some he had previously been devoted to. His writings and his piety set the course for future development of Christian theology and thought.

Augustine’s impact on church history cannot be estimated. Benjamin Warfield says “he transfigured the Christian faith for those who would follow”.

Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote “without Augustine’s massive intellect Western theology would never have taken the shape in which it is familiar to us”.

His autobiography, Confessions, is regarded as a classic of Christian literature.

Roman Catholics canonised him … and a young Martin Luther belonged to the Augustinian order of monks.

His treatises against the heresies of his day reveal him to be the church’s most able apologist. One statistician claims that Augustine – in his writings – quoted the Old Testament 13,276 times, and the New Testament 29,540 times! (Treasury of Evangelical Writings, by D.O. Fuller, page 51).

But not everybody sings the praises of this famous Bishop of Hippo.

Arminius disputes his teaching on election. Baptists question his paedo-baptist stance, pre-millennialists take issue with his prophetic views, and his emphasis that the church should “compel her erring sons to return to the fold” led to the deaths of thousands when baptism or the sword became a matter of ‘conversion’. His passionate insistence that infants need baptism to protect them from their sins is not a belief that is commonly held today.

At the end of Augustine’s life the Vandals, who had been gradually enclosing the Roman empire, laid siege to the city of Hippo. Being ill, Augustine only pray for his fellow-citizens. He passed away during the progress of the siege, on the 28th of August 430, at the age of seventy-five. Thus he was spared the distress of seeing the city all into enemy hands.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

The Domestic Bride

I have met some lovely young brides over the years and been delighted by the heart-felt desire of each one to please her husband. The home and its domestic challenges is an area where many brides long to excel and through which they plan to bless their husband.

Yet the domestic role of a bride is also an area where some misunderstanding and unclear concepts can lead the couple into strife. So this post is for the domestic bride.

Beautiful Bride with a Beautiful Heart

I know that not all young brides are as wonderful as others, but I want to pause for a moment and commend the many amazing and sweet young ladies I have met over the years who earnestly long to delight their husband. Some of those lucky men have been ignorant of how blessed they are. Some of them have gone on to bruise the tender heart of their darling bride.

So, to you amazing and gorgeous young ladies, I commend you for your eager and delightful intention to bless your young man. Mankind is blessed to have the undeserved devotion that you give. I pray that God bless each of you with the rewards of His grace, even if your wonderfully blessed husband does not realise how privileged he is.

Tender Hearts Get Bruised

I am sorry that it is so, but tender hearts do get bruised. Insensitive young men and starry-eyed young brides end up with the pain of disappointment, hurts and misunderstanding. Sometimes the bruises are so sore that the marriage never regains the innocence and tenderness of its initial hopes and dreams.

With the progress of time many marriages completely lose their wonder and delight. Both bride and groom draw back from their innocent hopes and their willing abandonment. Many a cranky older couple started out as two tender hearts longing for things they could never find. I will look at this subject from another angle at some time, with reference to the ‘spirit of the marriage’.

Understand the Problems

Entering into marriage and this wonderful new level of relationship with some understanding may help you. So allow me to cover some points that should help you understand the problem.

In simple terms the main problem stems from the bride’s longing to serve and bless, and the husband’s ignorance of what he wants and how things should be administered. It is hard to effectively serve and bless someone when that service is ill defined.

The Dangerous Assumptions

In marriage, the easy assumptions to make include such things as the idea that you are both wonderfully compatible. Another assumption is that it will just work out fine, all by itself. Then there is the assumption by the man that the woman will somehow instinctively do what pleases him, and the assumption by the woman that the man will instinctively be delighted by what she gives him.

All of these assumptions are dangerous, because all of them are most likely not true. They set the couple up for surprises, disappointment, argument, misunderstanding and hurts.

It is unlikely that the husband has ever clearly catalogued what he likes and what he wants. He has most likely been a passenger in life’s journey, floating along with the things his mother did for him. What ever she did will be what he sees as ‘normal’, even if she is the only person on the planet who does things that way.

If a young husband was asked to explain the domestic management of a home very few would have much depth of understanding. Most husbands are happy to leave things up to their bride. However this creates several problems.

Integration Problems

Since two separate domestic worlds are brought together by the newly-weds they will have to work through the integration issues. If they have never done such a thing before then they will be surprised how many issues arise.

There are often no right and wrong ways to do things. But we each have a sense for what is familiar to us. That familiar process is the one that will “seem right” to us, even if it is the most inefficient process ever imagined. If the bride and groom have different ideas of what is ‘right’ they will end up stumbling over each other’s perceptions. It will be easy to use words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, bringing a sense of condemnation into the relationship. If emotions are aroused, then insults and hurtful words can spill into the situation.

Tender and fragile emotions can be damaged in such an unexpected exchange.

Many a young man has rebuked his wife for not being able to cook meals the way his mother cooked it. His tastes and expectations have been moulded by his family experience and he may not realise that there is such great diversity in food and its preparation.

The Wrong Response

When a person does not have a clear idea of what they want or how to communicate it they can leave the other person directionless. Most young husbands will tend to leave their bride to do her best, not quite sure what she is going to do and how well she is going to do it.

These husbands can’t give positive guidance in such situations so the only guidance they can give is to point out what they think to be wrong. This I call the ‘wrong’ response. And the ‘wrong’ response is the wrong response!

When a husband can only tell his bride what is wrong he is set up to bludgeon her tender hopes into a calloused heart that gives up the hope of pleasing him. Or that gives him what he wants, but without any delight on her part any more.

Negative responses produce negative responses. A husband who guides his bride by disapproval is wounding her heart.

Is There a Simple Solution?

In matters of relationship there is usually no simple solution. I will offer a few simple suggestions, but I doubt that many people will heed them. I fear that many more lovely and tender young brides are going to head down the road to hardened and hurt older wives, despite what I present here. But for the sake of the one or two who may be saved from pain by my thoughts I will venture my simple solution.

Brides should be taught to expect that everything they bring into the marriage will have to be modified. They should be encouraged to go on a two-year journey of discovery of what works best in their home. They should be told that they will face some difficult challenges in this process but that they can succeed and create the most amazing new domestic formula for them both to enjoy.

The reason I put this on the bride is because she is the one who will otherwise be hurt. Her insensitive hero is less likely to be damaged in the sort-out of domestic process than the wife is. So my simple solution aims at shielding the most vulnerable party – that beautiful young woman.

If brides enter marriage with an expectation of their need to change, and a long-term time-line for getting things sorted out, there will be less pain in finding that the couple are less compatible than she hoped. There is time for the two of them to talk and explore their options. There is no silly idealism about it working perfectly from day one.

All of that helps the tender one to be more resilient in the inevitable sorting out process.

Other Helpful Steps

Obviously it is valuable for the young husband to understand the situation and how easily he can and will offend his darling bride. Men should be challenged to expect a long season of exploration and discovery. They should expect food to taste different and things to be done differently, because they are a new family, with new horizons and new possibilities.

I recommend that the couple set up an expectation – possibly suggested to them in the pre-marriage preparation process – that the husband review the bride’s processes and program at regular intervals.

While that might sound very sexist and man-serving at first glance, allow me to show why that is valuable.

The bride is built to please her man. How can she do that if she does not become attentive to what he needs or wants? If she makes her own assumptions and assessments independently of him she may spend her whole life doing things he does not want her to do in ways he does not want her to employ. This undermines her whole design and motivation.

I have also observed that two heads are better than one. I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the first to observe that fact. When any person acts for their whole life without the benefit of additional input and review they are in danger of doing the wrong things the wrong way for a long time. The most valuable and understanding contributor to the wife’s situation should be her husband. So having him give input in a regulated and consistent fashion is logical and appropriate.

And I also recommend that young men be given at least some understanding of how to protect the tender heart of their beloved. The pushing of the feminist notion that men and women are equal and almost identical has robbed men of appreciation for the woman’s needs and denied women the loving care that they are due.

Louis Thompson Talbot Leaves Booze for the Pulpit

This is the day that Louis Thompson Talbot was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1889.

His father, an assistant manager for Tooth’s Brewery, had married Bessie on the very day she had arrived from England. In the early 1900s Louis’ older brother, Jim, was converted at a gospel meeting in Redfern, New South Wales. The preacher was Loyal L. Wirt, who had served as a missionary in Alaska, and was the father of Sherwood E. Wirt, who later became editor of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine.

Jim felt the call to Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, and the clash with his liquor-selling father was awful.

With the help of his mother’s prayers, Louis, now in his manhood and still unsaved, became restless, dissatisfied, disillusioned with the liquor business. He dreamed of America and a new life. His brother Jim was to be a preacher: “Why couldn’t there be two preachers in the family?” So “Louie” followed his brother Jim to Moody Bible Institute, ready for a fresh adventure.

Louis had some form of a conversion experience when Wilbur Chapman preached in Sydney Town Hall in 1909. The following year he travelled to the USA. He was far along in his studies at Moody when, under the preaching of John Harper of London, he was genuinely converted.

In the years that followed, Louis Talbot became a well-known name in the evangelical world. He went from pastorate to pastorate in the United States and Canada until he received a call to the great Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, the very church the mighty R.A. Torrey had founded. Dr. Talbot was also president of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA). He had met and married Audrey Hogue while pastoring a Congregational church in Paris, Texas.

The story of Dr. Louis Talbot’s activities in Los Angeles is impressive. He came to a church of 1,200 discouraged members and left it with 3,500 and the future bright. He came to a debt of over a million dollars and left the church free from debt and with thousands of dollars raised on new promotional enterprises. He extended the missionary program to where literally hundreds of American missionaries and native workers circle the globe, supported by this great church. There were 300 students in the Bible Institute when he arrived but there were more than a thousand when he finished. His ministry over the air was phenomenal.

Billy Graham wrote in the Foreword to Talbot’s biography, “Dr Louis Talbot was one of the spiritual giants of this generation. As pastor, Bible teacher, author and educator he influenced not only me but thousands of theological students and pastors. His faithfulness to the infallibility of the Scriptures and the gospel has been an inspiration to me for many years” (For This I Was Born, by C. Talbot).

A Talbot quote which sums up his evangelical conviction says, “Whether or not one believes in its reality, the resurrection of Christ is of vital consequence to every person on earth. It is the “touchstone of destiny” for all mankind.”

After many years as president of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, Louis Talbot died on 22 January, 1976.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Catherine Booth one of the Army’s Best Men!

This is the day that … Catherine Booth died, in 1890.

Catherine Booth (nee Mumford), was born to a coachbuilder in Derbyshire, in 1829. She read the Bible eight times by the age of twelve, but was converted at the age of 15, when the words of a hymn led her to assurance of salvation.

At fourteen she developed spinal curvature and four years later, incipient tuberculosis. While ill in bed she began writing magazine articles against alcohol.

Catherine met William Booth, a Methodist minister in 1852. Catherine was impressed with both the sermon and the young preacher.

William believed ministers should be “loosing the chains of injustice, freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities.” While keen on social reform, Catherine, an avowed feminist, disagreed with William’s views on women. She objected to William describing women as the “weaker sex” and she argued that women should preach, while William opposed the idea. Despite their disagreements about the role of women in the church, the couple married on 16th June 1855.

Catherine first preached in1860 when a strange compulsion seized her and she felt she must rise and speak. The sermon so impressed William that he changed his mind about women preachers. Catherine Booth soon developed a reputation as an outstanding speaker but many Christians were outraged by the idea. Lord Shaftesbury regarded William as the antichrist for his promotion of women preachers. Booth later wrote, “some of the best men in my Army are women”!

When William created the Salvation Army she took her place as the beloved mother of the movement. She particularly inspired young ladies to preach and evangelise, including her own daughters. She journeyed to Paris to help her daughter Catherine and a handful of other young ladies set up the Salvation Army there.

Some said that Catherine’s sermons were as good as her husband’s. Certainly many were converted under her ministry.

For 30 years she and her husband waged war on sin and reached out a loving hand to England’s poor and needy.

She also took social action including the Food For A Million Shops, where poor could buy an inexpensive three-course meal. She was angered by the sweated labour that many women were subjected to, working 14 hours a day for a pittance. Bryant and May matches also used yellow phosphorous that poisoned the women working with it. She began a campaign that her husband completed after her death, to end the use of yellow phosphorous.

Eventually she found herself on the banks of ‘chilly Jordan’. She writes from her deathbed – to the 20,000 gathered in the Crystal Palace:

“My dear Children and Friends, My place is empty but my heart is with you. You are my joy and my crown. Your battles, sufferings and victories have been the chief interest of my life these 25 years. They are still. Go forward … live holy lives … love and seek the lost; bring them to the blood … I am dying under the Army flag; it is yours to live and fight under. God is my salvation and refuge in the storm. I send you my love and blessing. Catherine Booth.”

On Saturday, 4 October, 1890, the old General and his family gathered around Catherine’s bed. They prayed. They sang. Such grand old hymns as:
Calvary’s stream is flowing so free,
Flowing for you and for me.

“Go on,” Catherine said … and they sang some more –
Jesus, my Saviour, has died on the tree,
Died on the tree for me! Hallelujah!

Eventually, unable to speak, Catherine Booth pointed to the text hanging upon the wall, which read, “My Grace is sufficient for thee”. “That”, writes her biographer, “was her last testimony to God’s faithfulness.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

John Chrysostom with the Golden Mouth

This is the day that … John Chrysostom died in AD 407.

Actually he was not called “Chrysostom” until the 7th century (by Isadore of Seville) – and it is more of a nickname meaning “the golden mouthed”. Such was his eloquence, which still exists in his 600 written sermons.

John of Antioch” is how others describe him – for that is where he was born in AD 347 (the exact date is unknown).

His Christian mother, Anthusa, influenced him greatly. After her death he entered a monastery and then lived as a hermit for some time. He lived on bread and water and held nothing to be his personal possession. Eventually he was ordained a priest (AD 386) and 12 years later, was appointed as Archbishop of Constantinople – capital of the Eastern Empire. But he refused to go. So “under orders from an imperial edict, he was kidnapped, transported to the capital and ordained!” (Christian History, Volume 44, page 2).

Upon taking office he imposed many reforms, attacking excess and indulgence and promoting economy. His own salary was given away to the poor and to fund hospitals. He held no banquets and refused all invitations to such. He stopped the celibate priests from having a “spiritual sister”, which were nothing more than de-facto wives.

He exercised a remarkable ministry, strong in his denunciation of sin “until the Empress banished him because, she said, he had insulted her.” His sermon on “The Vices of Women” led to Eudoxia deposing him from office … and his flight. While the Emperor Arcadius prompted John’s choice for Patriarch of Constantinople, his wife, Eudoxia, was a much more powerful person persisted in her opposition to John, ultimately causing his death.

However, an earthquake shook Constantinople and damaged Eudoxia’s bedroom! – and she begged John to return. The truce was only temporary.

Back in Constantinople again John Chrysostom once more lifted up his voice in criticism of the ruling party. “Again Herodias raves,” he cried, “again she dances, again she demands John’s head put on a charger.” (The Early Church, by H. Chadwick, page 190).

The slight, five-foot St. John stood tall in his defiance of state authority, bowing only to God and never yielding the high principles of Christianity to expediency or personal welfare. In the words of his pupil, Cassia of Marseilles, “It would be a great thing to attain his stature, but it would be difficult. Nevertheless, a following of him is lovely and magnificent.”

John went into exile again.

“He was forced to march barefooted through the hot sand and bare-headed under the blazing sun. He died on the way …” (The Church in History, by B. Kuiper, page 46).

One delightful story concerning his ministry is that the congregation often “pushed and shoved their way to the front to hear him better”. Not only that, but they would “clap and stamp their feet whilst he was preaching”. So he delivered a stirring sermon condemning this as being “irreverent, disgraceful and dishonouring to God”.

The response was rather discouraging. When he had concluded this sermon, the congregation applauded him wildly!

John’s enduring contribution is in the wealth of writings he left behind, mostly written during his times of exile. F.F. Bruce speaks of him as “a great expositor of Scripture as well as a great preacher; the most valuable of his works are his Homilies on various books of the Bible where he displays much sound exegetical insight” (The Spreading Flame, page 330).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.