Arguing that Christianity is not to be blamed for the sack of Rome by the Goths, Augustine explains in The City of God that both good and bad men suffer. He writes:
But as for the good things of this life, and its ills, God has willed that these should be common to both [good and wicked men]; that we might not too eagerly covet the things which wicked men are seen equally to enjoy, nor shrink with an unseemly fear from the ills which even good men often suffer. . .
. . . the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor. . .
He then enumerates three benefits from the suffering Christians endure:
First of all, they must humbly consider those very sins which have provoked God to fill the world with such terrible disasters . . . . For every man, however laudably he lives, yet yields in some points to the lust of the flesh. Though he do not fall into gross enormity of wickedness, and abandoned viciousness, and abominable profanity, yet he slips into some sins . . .
[Second], . . . the good are chastised along with the wicked . . . not because they have spent an equally corrupt life, but because the good as well as the wicked, though not equally with them, love this present life; while they ought to hold it cheap . . .
Then, lastly, . . . that the human spirit may be proved, and that it may be manifested with what fortitude of pious trust, and with how unmercenary a love, it cleaves to God.
City of God, 1.8-9
I liked this one:
“the good are chastised along with the wicked . . . not because they have spent an equally corrupt life, but because the good as well as the wicked, though not equally with them, love this present life; while they ought to hold it cheap.”
The trouble is that a generation of preaching about how to have your best life now has conditioned many to reject the idea of suffering. We are basiccally at our most carnal minded period, perhaps in all of church history. We have been aught to set our affections on the things beneath, not above. Augustine is right, this life we ought to hold cheap. Calvin says something silmilar:
“Assuredly no man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection.”
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