The account of Augustine’s conversion in his own words

20 12 2011

The account begins with Augustine in despair over both his sins and his sinful condition…

I sent up these sorrowful cries: “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”

I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.”  Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard Doubtless from Ponticianus, in their earlier conversation. how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”  By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Augustine, Confessions Book VIII Ch. XII

The conversion of Martin Luther in his own words

20 12 2011

Below is the account of Luther’s famous “Tower Experience” whereby he came to understand the Gospel as God’s unconditional mercy towards sinners.  I have emboldened a few phrases that I would like to draw special attention to.  As a matter of curiosity, you might find it amusing that the “heated room” was most likely the toilet.  Even the greatest men have some of their deepest insights in the most humbling of places!

The words ‘righteous’ and righteousness of God’ struck my conscience like lightning.  When I heard them I was exceedingly terrified.  If God is righteous [I thought], he must punish.  But when by God’s grace I pondered, in the tower and heated room of this building, over the words, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live [Rom 1.17] and ‘the righteousness of God’  [Rom 3.21], I soon came to the conclusion that if we, as righteous men, ought to live from faith and if the righteousness of God should contribute to salvation of all who believe, then salvation won’t be our merit but God’s mercy.  My spirit was thereby cheered.  For it’s by the righeousness of God that we’re justified and saved through Christ.  These words [which had before terrified me] now became more pleasing to me.  The Holy Spirit unveiled the Scriptures for me in the tower.”

LW vol 54 pg 193-194

The Death of King Henry VIII

19 12 2011

Anglicans have and should be reasonably embarrassed that one of the main protagonists of the English Reformation was the scoundrel, Henry VIII, King of England.  Nevertheless, one should always remember that what you and I intend for evil God can and often does intend for good.  Below is an excerpt from Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial biography of Thomas Cranmer.  In the excerpt below is a touching account of the last act of the King of England, which was a public profession of faith in Christ alone.  Those familiar with Henry’s religious struggles are well aware that Henry rejected “sola fide” but held steadfast that faith must be joined with the “works” of the church, i.e. sacraments, penance, service etc.  Of particular interest would be one last “work” to accomplish on one’s deathbed, namely the last rites.  Henry, ministered to by his friend the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, deferred last rites and contented himself with a profession of faith in the finished work of Christ.  Like the the thief on the cross, even the worst of men may find hope and grace in the mercies of Jesus.

The first definite trace of him (Cranmer) back in London is at the reopening of Parliament on 14 January 1547, a meeting whose main purpose was to seal the fate of the Howards , and while dutifully voting through their attainder with his fellow peers, he also remained in regular attendance at the Council.  This meant that he was readily on hand to do his last duty for his old master as the King lay dying on 28 January.  It was Denny who persuaded Henry that he must face death, and the King asked specifically for the Archbishop to be with him.  By the time that Cranmer reached him in the small hours of that morning, Henry was already incapable of speech, but reached out to his old friend.

Then the archbishop, exhorting him to put his trust in Christ, and to call upon his mercy, desired him, though he could not speak, yet to give some token with his eyes or with his hand, that he trusted in the Lord.  Then the King holding him in his hand, did wring his hand as hard as he could.

Quietly playing out his calling as royal chaplain, Cranmer had won a final victory over years of argument with the King on justification.  No last rites for Henry, no extreme unction:  just an evangelical statement of faith in a grip of the hand.  Thus ended the most long-lasting relationship of love that either man had ever known.

MacCulloch, D. Thomas Cranmer (Yale University Press: 1996 pg 360)