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Augustine of Hippo shares his heart’s desire in “The Confessions”

“Lord, have mercy on me and hear my desire. For I think that it is not of the earth, nor of gold or silver, and precious stones, nor gorgeous apparel, nor honours and powers, nor the pleasures of the flesh, nor necessaries for the body, and this life of our pilgrimage; all which are added to those that seek Thy kingdom and Thy righteousness (Matt. vi.33). Behold, O Lord my God, whence is my desire. The unrighteous have told me of delights, but not such as Thy law, O Lord (Ps. cxix.85). Behold whence is my desire.”

St. Augustine in The Confessions (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1876) 292.

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Macarius and Antony: Two Stories from Desert Fathers on Possessions

“Again and again outsiders who wanted to alleviate the simplicity and austerity of their way of life found no one ready to receive the money or goods offered. Thieves were therefore no threat, partly because the hermits had nothing worth stealing but also because they wanted to have less and not more:

When Macarius was living in Egypt, one day he came across a man who had brought a donkey to his cell and was stealing his possessions. As though he was a passer-by who did not live there, he went up to the thief and helped him to load the beast and sent him peaceably on his way, saying to himself, ‘We brought nothing into this world (1 Tim. 6:7) but the Lord gave; as he willed, so it is done: blessed be the Lord in all things.’

A brother was leaving the world, and though he gave his goods to the poor, he kept some for his own use. He went to Antony, and when Antony knew what he had done, he said, “ If you want to be a monk, go to the village over there, buy some meat, hang it on your naked body and come back here.”

The brother went, and dogs and birds tore at his body. He came back to Antony, who asked him if he had done what he was told. He showed him his torn body. Then Antony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep their money are attacked in that way by demons and torn in pieces.”

Macarius and Antony as cited by Benedicta Ward in The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London: Penguin Books, 2003) 53.

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Brother Lawrence: Practice the Presence of our Gracious God and trust in His care for you

“We have a God who is infinitely gracious and knows all our wants. I always thought that He would reduce you to extremity. He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it. Hope in Him more than ever; thank Him with me for the favors He does you, particularly for the fortitude and patience which He gives you in your afflictions. It is a plain mark of the care He takes of you. Comfort yourself, then, with Him, and give thanks for all.”

Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of a Holy Life (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1895) 27.

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Anselm offers a spiritual perspective for living in the present

“How often, as you were singing or reading, did He not enlighten you with His light, the senses of your soul!

How often, when you prayed, did He not ravish you with ineffable longings for Himself!

How often, your mind being withdrawn from earthly things, did He not transport you into the midst of heavenly delights and the joys of paradise!

Think of all these things, and turn them over in your mind, that all your heart’s love may be turned over to Him.

O, let the world be worthless to you; let all carnal love be as dross; forget that you are in this world; for you have turned your heart’s intent and purpose to those in heaven and live in God; and where your treasure is, there my sister [and my brother] let your heart be also (St. Matt. vi. 21).

Do not shut up your heart with the silver coins in your worthless purse; for you can never fly to heaven with a load of money about you.

Think day by day that you are going to die, and you will not fidget about tomorrow. Let not the future terrify you with its barren waste, nor a fear of coming hunger deject your spirits; but let all your trust rest in Him who feeds the birds and clothes the lilies.

Let Him be your barn, make Him your treasury, make Him your purse, Him your riches, Him your joy; let Him alone be all in all to you. And meanwhile let this suffice for the things of the present.”

St. Anselm in St. Anselm’s Book of Meditations and Prayers (London: Burns & Oates, 1872) 226-227.

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Charles Wesley: “And Can It Be That I Should Gain”

And Can It Be That I Should Gain
Words: Charles Wesley, 1739 (Acts 16:26)

Music: Thomas Campbell, 1835

1.
And can it be that I should gain

an interest in the Savior’s blood! 

Died he for me? who caused his pain! 

For me? who him to death pursued? 

Amazing love! How can it be

that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be 

that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

2.
’Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies! 

Who can explore his strange design? 

In vain the firstborn seraph tries 

to sound the depths of love divine. 

‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;

let angel minds inquire no more.

’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore; 

let angel minds inquire no more.

3.
He left his Father’s throne above 

(so free, so infinite his grace!),

emptied himself of all but love,

and bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, 

for O my God, it found out me! 

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, 

for O my God, it found out me!

4.
Long my imprisoned sprit lay,

fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

thine eye diffused a quickening ray; 

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

my chains fell off, my heart was free, 

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

My chains fell off, my heart was free,

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

5.
No condemnation now I dread; 
Jesus,
and all in him, is mine; 
alive in him,
my living Head, 
and clothed in righteousness divine,

bold I approach the eternal throne, 

and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Bold I approach the eternal throne, 

and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

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George Müller on Stewardship in The Life of Trust

“Perhaps you say, the weeks are so unlike; in one week I may earn three or even ten times as much as in another week, and if I give according to my earnings from my calling during a very good week, then how are such weeks when I earn scarcely anything, or how are the bad debts to be met? How shall I do when sickness befalls my family or when other trials productive of expense come upon me, if I do not make provision for such seasons?

My reply is, I do not find in the whole New Testament one single passage in which either directly or indirectly exhortations are given to provide against deadness in business, bad debts, or sickness in our family, or other trials which increase our expense, to befall us, because we do not, as his stewards, act according to stewardship, but as if we were owners of what we have, forgetting that the time has not yet come when we shall enter upon our possessions; and he does so in order that, by these losses and expenses, our property which we have collected may be decreased, lest we should altogether set our hearts again upon earthly things, and forget God entirely. His love is so great, that he will not let his children quietly go their own way when they have forsaken him; but if his loving admonitions by His Holy Spirit are disregarded, he is obliged in fatherly love to chastise them.

A striking illustration of what I have said we have in the case of Israel nationally. The commandment to them was, to leave their land uncultivated in the seventh year, in order that it might rest, and the Lord promised to make up for this deficiency by his abundant blessing resting upon the sixth year. However, Israel acted not according to the commandment, no doubt saying, in the unbelief of their hearts, as the Lord had foretold. “What shall we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase” Lev XXV. But what did the Lord do? He was determined the land should have rest, and as the Israelites did not willingly give it, he sent them for seventy years into captivity, in order that thus the land might have rest. See Lev xxxvi.33-35.

Beloved brethren in the Lord, let us take heed so to walk as that the Lord may not be obliged by chastisement to take part of our earthly possessions from us in the way of bad debts, sickness, decrease of business, and the like, because we would not own our position as stewards, but act as owners, and keep for ourselves the means with which the Lord has entrusted us, not for the gratification of our own carnal mind, but for the sake of using them in his service and to his praise.

It might also be said by a brother whose earnings are small, should I also give according to my earnings? They are already so small that my wife can only with the greatest difficulty manage to make them sufficient for the family?

My reply is, Have you ever considered, my brother, that the very reason why the Lord is obliged to let your earnings remain so small may be the fact of your spending everything upon yourselves, and that if he were to give you more you would only use it to increase your own family comfort, instead of looking about to see who among the brethren are sick, or who have no work at all, that you might help them, or how you might assist the work of God at home or abroad? There is a great temptation for a brother whose earnings are small to put off the responsibility of assisting the needy and sick saints, or helping the on the world of God, and to lay upon the few rich brethren and sisters with whom he is associated in fellowship, and those rob his own soul!

It might be asked, How much shall I give of my income? The tenth part, or the fifth part, or the third part, or one half or more?

My reply is, God lays down no rule concerning this point. What we do we should do cheerfully and not out of necessity.”

George Müller in The Life of Trust: Being a Narrative of the Lord’s Dealings with George Müller (New York: Thomas Y Crowell & Co, 1877) 270-272.

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John Calvin: How to use this present life and the comforts of it

“He who makes it his rule to use this world as if he used it not, not only cuts off all gluttony in regard to meat and drink, and all effeminacy, ambition, pride, excessive shows and austerity, in regard to his table, his house, and his clothes, but removes every care and affection which might withdraw or hinder him from aspiring to the heavenly life, and cultivating the interest of his soul.

It was well said by Cato: Luxury causes great care, and produces great carelessness as to virtue; and it is an old proverb: Those who are much occupied with the care of the body, usually give little care to the soul. Therefore while the liberty of the Christian in external matters is not to be tied down to a strict rule, it is, however, subject to this law—he must indulge as little as possible; on the other hand, it must be his constant aims not only to curb luxury, but to cut off all show of superfluous abundance, and carefully beware of converting a help into an hinderance.

Another rule is, that those in narrow and slender circumstances should learn to bear their wants patiently, that they may not become immoderately desirous of things, the moderate use of which implies no small progress in the school of Christ. For in addition to the many other vices which accompany a longing for earthly good, he who is impatient under poverty almost always betrays the contrary disease in abundance. By this I mean, that he who is ashamed of a sordid garment will be vain-glorious of a splendid one; he who not contented with a slender, feels annoyed at the want of a more luxurious supper, will intemperately abuse his luxury if he obtains it; he who has a difficulty, and is dissatisfied in submitting to a private and humble condition, will be unable to refrain from pride if he attain to honour. Let it be the aim of all who have any unfeigned desire for piety to learn, after the example of the Apostle, “both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Phil. 4:12).

Scripture, moreover, has a third rule for modifying the use of earthly blessings. We have already adverted to it when considering the offices of charity. For it declares that they have all been given us by the kindness of God, and appointed for our use under the condition of being regarded as trusts, of which we must one day give account. We must, therefore, administer them as if we constantly heard the words sounding in our ears, “Give an account of your stewardship.” At the same time, let us remember by whom the account is to be taken—viz. by him who, while he so highly commends abstinence, sobriety, frugality, and moderation, abominates luxury, pride, ostentation, and vanity; who approves of no administration but that which is combined with charity, who with his own lips has already condemned all those pleasures which withdraw the heart from chastity and purity, or darken the intellect.”

John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Henry Beveridge) Book III, chap. x, 4-5.

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Hildegard of Bingen: How Much is Enough

“In the fear of God, get rid of everything that does not contribute to the health of your soul…also for the love of Christ, give up that stubborn part of your will which does not contribute to the refreshment of your soul, for the many riches of this world alienate mankind from the justice of God, and diminish it so much that it can scarcely be seen. Therefore, hold on to only so much as you can use to benefit others with the seed of your wisdom, and also only enough to stretch out your hand with alms to the needy and the poor.”

Hildegard of Bingen in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen, Volume 3 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) 146.

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J.I. Packer: Christian Living in a Materialistic World

“Now we can see hot tub religion for what is is–Christianity corrupted by the passion for pleasure. Hot tub religion is Christianity trying to beat materialism, Freudianism, humanism, and Hollywood at their own game, rather than challenge the errors that the rules of that game reflect. Christianity, in short, has fallen victim yet again (for this has happened many times before, in different ways) to the allure of this fallen world. Worldliness–that is, embracing the world’s values, in this case pleasure–is the source of hot tub religion’s distinctive outlook. “The place for the ship is in the sea,” said D.L. Moody, speaking of the church and the world, “but God help the ship if the sea gets into it.” His sentiment was surely just.

Symptoms of hot tub religion today include a skyrocketing divorce-and-remarriage rate among Christians; widespread indulgence of sexual aberrations; and overheated supernaturalism that seeks signs, wonders, visions, prophecies, and miracles; constant soothing syrup from electronic preachers and the liberal pulpit; anti-intellectual sentimentalism and emotional “highs” deliberately cultivated, the Christian equivalent of cannabis and coca; and an easy, thoughtless acceptance of luxury in everyday living. These are not healthy trends. They make the church look like the world, driven by the same unreasoning desire for pleasure seasoned with magic. Thus they undermine the credibility of the gospel of new life. If these trends are to be reversed, a new frame of reference will have to be established. To this task, therefore, we now move, following where Scripture leads.

The word from God that we need to hear on this subject was written by John the apostle: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting pride of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

J.I. Packer in Hot Tub Religion: Christian Living in a Materialistic World (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1987) 82-84.

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Ronald Wallace: The Right Use of this World

“The conditions, then, for a right use of this world are to pass through it as pilgrims should who have their minds fixed on another country to which they are traveling, to offer all that we possess and enjoy here in our open hands as a sacrifice to God to take from us whenever it pleases Him, to make such tokens of the divine love as we enjoy in the midst of this present creation whet our appetites for the fuller glory that is yet to be–in other words to use this world thankfully as a preparation for that which is to come. Under such circumstances it is right for us to indulge in a real and thankful love of this life. We thus have the paradoxical truth that we are able to love this life only when we have truly learned first to despise this life.”

Ronald Wallace in Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1959) 130.

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