The Confessions of Saint Augustine
“Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee”
We come to the last of four writings from the ancient world. The man was Aurelius Augustine and his work, The Confessions, was the first of its kind and, along with his City of God, left an indelible mark on how the Church has understood the Christian faith. In it, the great saint rehearses his pilgrimage from a pagan teacher of rhetoric to the climactic scene of his conversion in a garden where the misery of his inability and unwillingness to give himself to God is finally overcome by God’s overwhelming grace. The work is “psychological” in the best sense of that word, as Augustine looks back upon his life now as a Christian and shows us how God was working in him all along. He also recounts his sins and reveals to us how evil and enslaving sin is and how only the grace of God can break the chains.
In the first chapter of the book Saint Augustine puts down a line that has been quoted over and again by Christian writers ever since: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (NPNF, First Series, 1.1). Before these profound words, Augustine speaks about how “man” seeks to praise God. This is the proof that God has made man for Himself and that he finds no rest apart from God, because all men seek for God and reach out to Him. But Augustine also knows from Paul’s writings that man in his natural state runs away from God because of his sinful nature. He is enslaved to his sin and desires his sin more than God. For this reason, salvation is a miraculous work of God in which God breaks the chains that a man cannot break and turns a sinner into a saint.
In reference to the question we pondered yesterday that the pagans turned on the vile and stubborn Christians who endured unspeakable tortures to the denial of their faith in Christ—“What did they get out of their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?”—we might add the insights of Augustine come from the Apostle Paul: Because Christ Jesus saved me when I could not save myself, because he freed me from the bondage of loving a life which I knew was a hell, because he revealed to me that deep-seated truth which I had long denied and even suppressed in favor of living the lie—to wit, that He had made me for Himself, and my wandering heart would ever be restless until it found rest in Him.
As we now turn to the Advent Season, may our hearts find rest in Him as we seek His power to turn from the sins which so easily beset us in preparation for His coming, for He has made us for Himself. Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.