AUGUSTINE: Called to Purity

With pen in hand, St. Augustine (354-430 AD) meditated on scriptures and the mysteries of living…all, in an attempt to tell the Lord the truth.  The result was his landmark autobiography, Confessions.  As I am reading a book on different types of prayer, the author mentions Augustine’s approach to writing prayers which is a long held practice of my own.  One particular translation of Psalms 44:2 says, “But when shall I be capable of proclaiming by the ‘tongue of my pen’?”, while another translation is, “My tongue is the reed pen of the swift-writing scribe.”  In either case the connection between writing and the tongue is inescapable whether the pen is a tongue or the tongue is a pen.  Nevertheless, Augustine used writing to express his meditations and prayers long before the Puritans such as Cotton Mather or John Beadle adopted and promoted such habits of prayer, both, of whom are highlighted in this book entitled Kneeling with Giants (Hansen, 2012).

Augustine traveled through an addiction to his own lusts, wrestling with these sins of his youth as he started to respond to God’s call to purity.  Are we, not, all called to this same calling from Christ?  Yet, there seems to be those to whom the Lord has provided a greater dispensation of grace in their response to such a high call.  Speaking from my own experience, my own plague of lusting eyes has been a doorway into lusting after the flesh, especially some fabricated perfect female form that consumes my time, thoughts and attending search-filled eyes; but, then the time following that is dedicated to remorse, repentance and revile.  O that I would come to revile that for which I search!  O to love Him more whom I, obviously, do not love wholeheartedly.  Could any of this be anything else but the beguiling unbelief?  What lurking dangers slink behind those undressed forms beckoning the sustaining glance to be converted into a lasting stare?  Was this not the first opened door at our Mother’s attention to the Garden’s forbidden fruit?  It looked good.  Seeing that the tree was “…good for food and that it was pleasing to the eyes.” (Genesis 6:2)  Yes, all things her Lord created were good, but only one was forbidden.  What is our driving appeal toward the thing to which we are told “no”?  Is it not the third of the unholy trinity, pride of life, that makes us susceptible to its lusty bedfellows of the eyes and flesh? (1 John 2:16) Made in the image of God, you say?  Who fully knows the meaning?  Were the angels exempt? Hardly. (Genesis 6:2)  They saw the beautiful daughters of men which was enough to tempt them from their proper domain (Jude 1:6), giving up residency and access to the very throne room of the Almighty.  What a choice!  What a visual appeal!  Why was this glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:7)so appealing to the angels?  Woman was formed for man, not for the angels.  In a sense, earthly women were the forbidden fruit to these heavenly sons of God, but some gazed too long at her beauty.  But how else would she be created, other than beautifully?  She was destined and prepared for the final wedding feast, prepared for the anointed bridegroom who would bring her into his temple. (Psalms 44:16)

How does any of this knowledge assist me in relocating my own gaze from any other beauty than the one HE gave me in my youth?  I keep coming back day by day to purchase the Laodicean eye salve (Revelation 3:18) for this diseased lust of the eyes, hoping that there is a cure not requiring Jesus’s prescription of an organ extraction – that dreaded plucking out of the eye. (Malachi 2:14-16)  This anointed eye salve and white garments preventing the shame of my nakedness can, apparently, be purchased from Jesus with gold refined in the fire – purity.  O Holy One who deposited Ophir’s famous gold, bring me to Your refined gold processed by Your Holy Spirit and FIRE. (Matthew 3:11)  Where can I find this gold except in Your heavenly treasury?  How can this unclean vessel gain access to such purchased redemption?  Only by a contrite and humbled knee-worn approach may I approach that gate.  What have I to offer in exchange for that pure currency, or that white raiment or that healing eye salve?  Only this life – though it is not really mine to give, yet it is all that I have.  Nay – there is other, but those things also have been given me by THEE.  Possessions, wealth, comfort, relationships, limited power – all are borrowed from You.  Yes, even my breath will return to You in due time.  None are mine.  I have nothing to give but what has been given me.  Is that enough to purchase this refined gold of which the Revelator speaks?

Can I give You my thirst, my hunger for righteousness?  Are these unfulfillments enough to purchase hope?  What emptiness is of value to You?  Yet the prophet (Isaiah 55:1, 1955) advises those who thirst  to come to the spring that does not run dry.  He beckons us to buy sustenance without money or price.  I give You my thirst.  Only my Samaritan (John 4:7-15) soul can drink of this ever-quenching spring for satisfaction, yet I still return to the bitter Marah (Exodus 15:23, 1955) waters.  Why would I return to those bitter waters when You refused the gall (Mark 15:23) in Your sufferings for me ensuring the full force of my sins laid on You?  There is no thirst satisfied at Marah…only at the Rock cleft for me…at no cost to me.  The Old Testament prophet and the New Testament revelator, both, advise us to BUY.  This cosmic transaction can only be purchased with what I have borrowed…with whatever I have been given.  We, too, have been offered a cup (Matthew 20:22-23) – Jesus’s cup of suffering. Additionally, the Savior challenged His listeners to “take up your cross and follow ME.”  Both, the cup and the cross were and continue to be offered to us.  Shall we drink?  Shall we bear the cross?  Augustine’s call to purity required not only the right answer, but the right actions: drink and carry.  This holy purchase requires us to know what we are purchasing without money or price.  The call to purity is not without the cost of sacrificing our will to Him who gave it to us.  Jesus did “…nevertheless, not My will, but Yours , be done.” (Luke 22:42)

One Comment Add yours

  1. Jim Clark says:

    MIke: This is excellent. Thank you so much for writing this and sending it to us. It gets to the heart of our lust and to the solution — bearing the cross Jesus calls us to carry, surrendering daily to His will and continuing to pursue this life in Christ, for as the psalmist says, “your love is better than life” (Psalm 63:1).

    I plan to send it to many Christian men I know, including several leaders. I pray that you would send this post to every Christian man you know. Because whether we admit it or not, even as we get older, the lust of the flesh can have such a strong pull on our hearts. The enemy wants us to not only glance at the beautiful, shapely woman (whether real or imaginary) but to continue to stare and thus feed the lust.

    Holy Spirit, when we as Christian men are tempted to stare, may we instead “fix our eyes on Jesus.” so that we not only resist the temptation to engage in the sin of lust but instead dwell on the love of Jesus, the lover of our souls. For we pray in Jesus’ mighty and beautiful name. Amen.

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