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Festival of Augustine of Hippo, Teacher of the Faith, 28 August

By Roger Salter
September 1, 2017


For who makes you to be different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
1 Corinthians 4 : 7.

The plague of the human heart is boastfulness. And boastfulness is an aspect of the root of sin and the cause of the Fall - pride! This is the great and deadly infection of our nature that drives us from God and prevents our willing return.

We are inveterate boasters and habitual boosters of our ego. We may not be noticeably vocal or given to parading ourselves but we console our sense of entitlement to superiority and worth by pampering the soul with whispers of encouragement. Life is literally a matter of "one man over against another" as Paul observes 1 Corinthians 4:6). Human existence is highly competitive rather than genuinely co-operative. We are always in search of the features and factors within ourselves that make us distinctive and admirably different. Constant comparisons contrive to increase our confidence or compensate for any wounding of our conceit (a set of excuses).

So human beings occupy themselves by creating classes of people on the basis of position in society, quality of performance in life, and the degree of prosperity gained. We live in a system that divides "them from us". Praise in some form or other is the pursuit of our nature through talent, success, wealth or appearance. Everyone craves their space beneath the spotlight and the acknowledgement that somehow they are better than others.

This is the broad application of the apostle's words and it underscores the folly and vanity of life. For whatever we have that could be considered as good, virtuous or beneficial comes from God in his providence. Brain, beauty, or any natural brilliance is his gift and not the fruit of our attainment. So Paul says, "Why boast in what you have received?" In these few words he denounces and demolishes the sin of bragging. Such is our pride - irrational and perverse.

But Paul is exercising a more profound discernment than human attitude in worldly life and affairs. He is drilling to the core of pride in its very worst form - spiritual arrogance - gloating that annihilates grace, the sense that we are worthy, even in the slightest way, of God's approval and favour. Even in a life that professes dependence on the Lord there can lurk a smug sense of contribution to salvation and control over God in his dealings with us. "What do you have that you did not receive?" It is grace that distinguishes the believer before God - his own sovereign choice of them, his own action on their behalf, and his effective work in them. No believer or child of God can boast one iota concerning their rescue from evil and its inevitable doom. From first step to finish in our personal history recovery to God and all its benefits is a matter of grace alone. A lesson scarcely learned.

God has no tolerance for the boaster. He resists the proud - "I hate pride and arrogance" (Proverbs 8:13).

Augustine recognised this fact very clearly: "If you want to be cast forth from grace, brag about your merits" (On the Psalms).


Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14).

Paul was completely convinced that getting right with God was utterly and totally a matter of grace allowing for no human contribution whatsoever. But what about the matter of remaining in grace? Augustine knew the strength of the propensity to sin before and after conversion. Our purification before God and increasing likeness to him in holiness is a gradual and lifetime process. Progress in sanctification is a lifelong fight. How shall perfect righteousness be effected within us if we are so weak and wayward?

These words from Paul to the Romans, living in such a decadent and depraved city as they did, spoke so powerfully to Augustine that he credits them with his conversion. Augustine was well aware of his sexual impurity and bodily proclivity. He prayed for resistance to temptation but with the proviso - but not yet! He experienced the power of sin as unconquerable addiction. He knew that his will could not resist pleasure and desire. Grace has to adjust our wills - bend, incline them towards God. We need a new heart through regeneration without which we cannot forsake or loathe sin.

The answer to every Christian's fear of succumbing to sin and separation from God is found in the wisdom of the apostle, "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ".

Grace makes provision for our protection and perseverance. Grace makes provision for our preservation. Just as it commences our safety in Christ so it concludes our safekeeping in him. Grace is not an impersonal power or magic concoction infused into our being like the injection of a therapeutic serum. Grace is is the presence, power, and merciful goodness of the Lord at work in us and for our eternal wellbeing. Grace is God doing us good. Grace is the Lord Jesus perfecting our redemption outwardly on the cross and inwardly in the heart. Grace is God at work in benevolence and compassion putting things right for us and within us.

Christ is the embodiment of grace, its source, and the capacious Vessel that outpours grace freely upon us and without desert on our part. Grace is not a "thing" from a heavenly dispensary that we dose ourselves with: it is "Thou" who lavishes kindness upon us.

Augustine learned that in spite of his strong inclinations and lingering fears Christ in Person was enabling victory over his evil yearnings. Christ deigned to be his all-over armour and the one who would triumph over his enemies within and without.

Salvation is all of grace - salvation is all of Christ.

It is dishonouring to God to think that he cannot save us from ourselves, sweetly draw us to himself, and guarantee to save us ultimately. Two of Augustine's favourite portions of Holy Scripture can thrill and encourage us in a similar way. We are God's because he makes us so. Our security in him is impregnable because daily he makes it so.

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