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after. Of this amiable picture which I have now drawn, I trust and pray God, that you, as a minister and congregation, may be the originals.
And now, “ brethren, farewell! Be perfect,-be of good comfort,-be of one mind,- live in peace,--and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”-Amen.
AUGUSTINE'S CONFESSIONS ABRIDGED.
NO. VI. O THOU! my hope from my youth, where wast thou ? thou madest me wiser than the fowls of heaven; yet I walked through darkness and slippery places. My mother was now come to me, courageous through piety, following me by land and sea, and secure of thy favour in all dangers. She found me very hopeless with respect to the discovery of truth. However, when I told her my present situation, she answered, that she believed in Christ, that before she left this world, she should see me a sound believer, To thee, her
and tears were still more copious, that thou wouldst perfect what thou hadst begun, and with much zeal and affection she attended the ministry of Ambrose. Him she loved as an angel of God, because she understood that I had broken off from Manichean connections through his means, and she confidently expected me to pass from sickness to health, though with a critical danger in the interval.
She had been used to bring bread and wine for the com. memoration of the saints; and still retaining the African custom, she was prohibited by the door-keeper, understanding that the bishop bad forbidden the practice. Another person would not soon have been obeyed, but .Ambrose was her favourite, and was himself amazed at the promptitude of her obedience. The reasons of the prohibition were, the fear of access, and the danger of superstition, the practice itself being very similar to those of the Pagans.* Instead, therefore, of a cannister full of the fruits of the earth, she henceforward,
• Here is a striking instance of the growth of Pagan superstition in the Church. The torrent was strong, and notwithstanding occasional checks which it received, it at length overspread all Christendom, and quite obscured the light of the Gospel.
on the commemoration days of the martyrs, gave alms, according to her ability, to the poor, and received the Lord's Supper, if it was celebrated on those occasions. · Ambrose himself was charmed with the fervour of her piety and the amiableness of her good works, and often brake out in his preaching, when he saw me, congratulating me that I had such a mother, little knowing what sort of a son she had, who doubted of all these things, and even apprebended the way of life to be impervious to man. Nor did I groan to thee in prayer for help, intent only on study, and restless in discussions and investigations. In a secular view Ambrose himself appeared to be an happy man, revered as he was by the imperial court; only his celibacy appeared to me in a melan. choly light. But what hope he bore within, what struggles he bad against the temptations of grandeur, what was his real comfort in adversity, bis hidden strength and joy derived from the bread of life, of these things I could form no idea ; for I had no experience; nor did he know the fluctuations of my soul, nor the dangerous pit in which I was enslaved. It was out of my power to consult him as I could wish, surrounded as he was with crowds of persons, whose necessities be relieved. During the little time in wbich he was from them (and the time was but little), he either refreshed his body with food, or his mind with reading. Hence I had no opportunity to unbosom myself to him. A few words of conversation sufficed not. I expected in vain to find him at leisure for a long conversation.* I profited, however, by his sermons. Every Lord's day, I heard him instructing the people, and I was more and more convinced of the falsity of the calumnies which those deceivers had invented against the divine books. And when I found that the Mosaic ex. pression of man made after the image of God was understood by no believer to imply, that God was in human form, though I still could form no idea of a spiritual substance, I was glad, and blushed to think how many years I had falsely accused the Church, instead of learning by careful inquiry. +
* Doubtless, could the modesty of Augustine have prevailed on bim to desire such a conference, he might have obtained it. And what a bishop then was in the Church of Christ may be seen in Ambrose.
+ A remarkable instance of partiality attended with a remarkable frankness of confession. Augustine for nine years believed that the genera) church held the corporeal form of the Supreme Being, though he might with ease have learned the contrary at any time. But heresy in all ages acts in the same disingenuous spirit.
The state of my mind was now something altered; ashamed of past miscarriages and delusions, and hence the more anxi. ous to be guided right for the time to come. I was com: pletely convinced of the falsehood of the many things I had once uttered with so much confidence. I was pleased to find, that the Church of Christ was plainly free from the monstrous absurdity of which I had accused her. I found, too, that thy holy men of old held not these sentiments with which they were charged. And I was pleased to find Ambrose very dili. gently commending a rule to his people, " the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life;"* when the bishop, removing the mystic veil, opened to us those things, which according to the letter might seem to teach perverseness : what he said was agreeable to me, though I was far from being convinced of its truth.f My former mistakes and blameable rashness ren. dered me now exceedingly sceptical, and I wanted the fullest intuitive evidence. By faith, indeed, I might have been healed. But having experienced a bad physician, I now dreaded a good one. By believing alone could I be cured ; yet for fear of believing false things, 1 refused to be healed, resisting thy hands, who hast made for us the medicines of faith, and hast sprinkled them over the diseases of the world, and hast attributed so great authority to them.
I could not, however, but prefer the general doctrine of the Church, and think it was more reasonable to enjoin faith in subjects incapable of demonstration, than to require the belief of most absurd fables, after pretending to promise us knowledge. By degrees, thou, Lord, with a mild and merciful hand regulating and composing my heart, enablest me to con. sider how many things I believed which I had never seen, wbat credit I gave to friends, to physicians, to many others, without which the common affairs of life could never be transacted; also how firmly I believed who were my parents, though I could not possibly have any demonstration concerning the matter. Thus thou persuadest me, that those who
An important observation surely! abused much by Origen and many of his followers, to fanciful and capricious purp In Augustine, bowever, the distinction between letter and spirit was generally made commensurate with that between fesh and spirit, and in effect distinguished self-righteous from evangelical religion.
+ It would be well, if many, who stumble at the Old Testament, were more convinced of their own ignorance and incompetency, for want of a just and solid acquaintance with its typical nature and the laws of interpreting it.
believed thy books were not to be condemned of credulity ; but those who disbelieved them were to be condemned for unreasonable obstinacy, especially as their credibility was established by the great authority which they had obtained throughout the world. “How do you know that those books were divinely inspired ?" appeared to me now a question implying a doubt not worthy to be attended to. For amidst all the contentiousness of philosopbers, which had so much agitated my mind, I had ever preserved the belief of thy existence and Divine Providence. Sometimes, indeed, this belief was stronger, sometimes weaker, yet it never left me, notwithstanding my great perplexity concerning thy nature, or the way
of approaching thee. As we are then too infirm to discover truth by abstract reasoning, and therefore need the authority of divine revelation, I apprehended that thou wouldst never have attributed such high authority and influence to the Scriptures through the world, unless this had been the appointed means of our knowing thee, and seeking thy will; and now the absurdities, which the literal interpretation of many things seemed to involve, after I had heard a probable exposition of several of them, I referred to the depth of mys. teries; and hence the authority of the books appeared more venerable and more credible, as they, in fact, lay open to every one's view, and yet reserved the dignity of their secret, by the most profound sentiments, offering themselves to all in a language the most open and the most humble, and exer. cising the attention of serious souls; so that they received all in their popular bosom, and through narrow holes transmitted only a few to thee, though many more in number, than they would do, if they were not recommended by such high authority, and did not draw in the multitude by the garb of sacred humility. I considered these things, and thou wast present with me; I sighed, and thou beardst me; I fluctuated, and thou directedst my course; I went along the broad way of the world, and thou didst not desert me.
* We bave seen here the close thoughts of an original thinker, who had once as strong a prejudice as any against Scripture truth, owning bis rashness in condemning what he bad not understood, convinced of the rationality of the Scriptures, after he had in some measure discovered the true key to their meaning, persuaded of their divinity from their providential propagation in the world, owning the unreasonableness of expecting demonstration, and of refusing assent to grounds of faith, such as determine us in common life, spying a divine beauty in the plainness and simplicity of their language, adapted to all capacities, and
My heart was thirsting after honours, profits, and marriage, and thou deridedst
me. In these lusts I suffered the bitterest difficulties; thou being so much the more propitious, the less thou sufferedst any thing to be pleasant to me which was not thyself. See, Lord, my heart. Now let it stick close to thee, which thou hast freed from the tenacious glue of death. How miserable was I, and how didst thou cause me to feel my misery on that day, when I was preparing to recite a panegyric to the emperor, in which there were many falsehoods, and I expected applause, even from those who knew then to be falsehoods, when my heart brooded over its anx. ieties, and passing through a certain street of Milan, I saw a poor beggar, I suppose at that time with a full belly, jocund and merry! I sighed, and spake to my friends, who were with me, of the many pains of our madness, because from all the toils, which with so much labour and vexation we underwent, we expected only that same rest and security which that beggar had already attained, though we were uncertain whether we should ever reach it. In truth, he was not possessed of true joy, but I, by the ambiguous windings of art, sought it in a more delusory way. He, however, was evidently merry, I full of anxiety; he at his ease, I full of fear. Were I asked, whether frame of mind I should prefer, I should without hesitation choose his. Yet if I were asked, whether I would be Augustine, or the beggar, 1 should say the former. How perverse was this ? Much to this purpose did I say to my friends, and often observed how things were with me, and I found myself miserable, and I grieved, and doubled that misery. And if any thing prosperous
I backward to lay hold of it, because it flew away almost before I could lay hold of it.*
My most intimate conversations on these subjects were with Alypius and Nebridius. The former, my townsman, had studied under me both at Tagasta and at Carthage, and we were very dear to each other. The torrent of fashion, at the latter place, hurried him into the Circensian games, of which
comprehending at length the necessity of a serious mind, in order to render them effectual to saving purposes. Sceptics and infidels would do well to follow him in this train of thought; they need not be ashamed to imitate a person so acute and ingenious.
* A lively picture of human vanity, perfectly agreeable to the whole tenor of ECCLESIASTÉS, and evidencing the distress of those in high life to be equal to that of those in low at least! Ambition receives no cure from the review, till the man knows what is better.