“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” –Heb. 4:9-11a
Augustine begins his Confessions with a line which would become one of the most well-loved statements of man’s ultimate end to be penned, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The wording of this statement is clearly inspired by Plotinus, who, in his Enneads, says that, “there is no need to wonder why it has such power that it drags the soul to itself, and calls the soul back from all its wandering, so it can come to rest with it.” That which, for Plotinus, has such power to call the soul back from its wandering, providing it with rest, is the Good which infuses all things with such beauty and goodness, that the soul is “moved and dances, and is pricked by desire, it becomes love.” Augustine rightly applies what Plotinus says of the One-Good, to the triune God. God made man such that he would always be seeking and desiring God, and would find no abiding rest, peace, or joy in anything other than in his Good Creator.
The theme of rest can be traced throughout the entire Confessions, as Augustine vividly teaches us that to abide in God is to rest, and to be anywhere other than in God is to be restlessly striving for rest. Augustine describes his youthful search to “love and to be loved,” as exhausting, “I travelled very far from you, and you did not stop me. I was tossed about and spilt, scattered and boiled dry in my fornications. And you were silent. How slow I was to find my joy! At that time you said nothing, and I travelled much further away from you into more and more sterile things productive of unhappiness, proud in my self-pity, incapable of rest in my exhaustion.” God allowed the young Augustine to anxiously and frantically search for Him in the ways of this world, not finding Him, but awakening in him a desire for God—though he did not know it yet.
Later, in book 4 of the Confessions, Augustine exhorts his flesh to not seek rest in the material things of this world, but to see these things as no more than launching pads rocketing him away from the desires of the flesh to the true rest he so intensely desires. He first reminds us that all these things which taste so good, if they are good at all, are good because God made them. “But far superior to these things is he who made all things, and he is our God. He does not pass away; nothing succeeds him. If physical objects give you pleasure, praise God for them and return love to their Maker lest, in the things that please you, you displease him…For he did not create and then depart; the things derived from him have their being in him.” However, our hearts are so easily drawn from Him by these things, and must be consistently, and all too frequently, exhorted to return to Him, to seek Him, to turn our hearts towards Him. “Look where he is—wherever there is a taste of truth. He is very close to the heart; but the heart has wandered from him. ‘Return, sinners, to your heart’ (Isa. 46:8 LXX), and adhere to him who made you. Stand with him and you will stand fast.” The theme of rest now resurfaces,
“Rest in him and you will be at rest. Where are you going to along rough paths? What is the goal of your journey? The good which you love is from him. But it is only as it is related to him that it is good and sweet. Otherwise it will justly become bitter; for all that comes from him is unjustly loved if he has been abandoned. With what end in view do you, again and again, walk along difficult and laborious paths (Wisd. 5:7)? There is no rest where you seek it. Seek for what you seek, but it is not where you are looking for it.”
Augustine immediately points us away from the death towards which these restless paths lead us, to “He who for us is life itself”, who “descended here and endured our death and slew it by the abundance of his life.” Christ, who is Life, is what our restless heart desires, and it is in Him, and in Him alone that we will find rest.
Yet, at this point in his life, Augustine does not yet find the rest he so ardently desires. Rather, he is led through tortuous paths to Milan, where, in book 6, we find a description of how he and his friends struggle with the conflicting passions for fleshly goods and the desire for the Good of Truth. Book 6 ends with a lament, “What tortuous paths! How fearful a fate for the ‘rash soul’ (Isa. 3:9) which nursed the hope that after it had departed from you, it would find something better! Turned this way and that, on its back, on its side, on its stomach, all positions are uncomfortable. You alone are repose.” The lament, however, is immediately tempered by a reminder that hope is close at hand, “You are present, liberating us from miserable errors, and you put us on your way, bringing comfort and saying: ‘Run, I will carry you, and I will see you through to the end, and there I will carry you’ (Isa. 46:4).”
In book 7 we read of the final steps along which our Lord led Augustine to his conversion. Reading the writings of the Platonists, translated into Latin by Marius Victorinus, Augustine realizes that these writings are pointing him towards God, and that there are many Christian themes expressed within them. He discovers, however, that the writings of these Platonists are incomplete—though they contain much truth, they say nothing of Christ, the God-man. Here he realizes that though the Platonists speak highly of some form of “intellectual rest”, they “do not hear him who says ‘Learn of me, that I am meek and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls’ (Matt.11:29).” He realizes the truth of Christ’s statement, as he becomes conscious that by his own strivings he is attempting to take what can only be given to him, “I sought a way to obtain strength enough to enjoy you; but I did not find it until I embraced ‘the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 2:5), ‘who is above all things, God blessed for ever’ (Rom. 9:5).” Yet, without humbling himself and falling upon Christ, he would not be raised, “Your Word, eternal truth, higher than the superior parts of your creation, raises those submissive to him to himself. In the inferior parts he built for himself a humble house of our clay. By this he detaches from themselves those who are willing to be made his subjects and carries them across to himself, healing their swelling and nourishing their love…In their weariness they fall prostrate before this divine weakness which rises and lifts them up.”
As his Confessions begins with rest, and as we see him restlessly and anxiously pursuing rest through the tortuous paths of his life, so, his Confessions end with rest. He concludes by bringing us back to the beginning—the principle—from which we began. God Himself rests and invites us into His rest. Surely remembering the words of Hebrews 4, Augustine comments on the early chapters of Genesis, teaching us that as God rested, so He calls us to rest in Him. He invites us to rest in Him “for the sabbath of eternal life. There also you will rest in us, just as now you work in us. Your rest will be through us, just as now your works are done through us.” In words that echo those of Hebrews 4:9-11, Augustine says, “But you God, one and good, have never ceased to do good. Of your gift we have some good works, though not everlasting. After them we hope to rest in your great sanctification. But you, the Good, in need of no other good, are ever at rest since you yourself are your own rest.” As God rests, so we are called to rest in Him.
Augustine teaches us, in a vivid and unforgettable way, that though the pathways of this life may be tortuous, dangerous, fearful, worrisome, busy, distracting, and tiring; though they may even, at times, seem to lead us away from God; as God rested from his work on the seventh day, so we are invited to rest from ours in Him, in Christ, who is our Sabbath. This rest may only come to its fullest fruition when this earthly life is over, and we are finally raised to eternal union with God. However, this does not mean that we cannot, already, now, today, begin to taste that rest which we are promised. Indeed, it is to this rest that we are now invited.
What is that “rest” to which we are now invited? Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, suggests that the highest form of human flourishing is not “rest and relaxation” or “pleasant amusements,” but, rather, is found in the contemplation of God, which is the goal of all human activity, and most readily accessible, during our human lives through what he calls Leisure. Josef Pieper, in his important work on the subject of Leisure, concludes his by suggesting that “The soul of leisure, it can be said, lies in ‘celebration’. Celebration is the point at which the three elements of leisure come to a focus: relaxation, effortlessness, and superiority of ‘active leisure’ to all functions. But if celebration is the core of leisure, then leisure can only be made possible and justifiable on the same basis as the celebration of a festival. That basis is divine worship. The meaning of celebration, we have said, is man’s affirmation of the universe and his experiencing the world in an aspect other than its everyday one. Now we cannot conceive a more intense affirmation of the world than ‘praise of God’, praise of the Creator of this very world.” This leisure, this worship of God, however, must be done for no purpose other than worship, “Celebration of God in worship cannot be done unless it is done for its own sake.” We must love and worship God for Himself, and not for anything other than Himself. We must cease our striving, and rest in His Beautiful Goodness. This is the rest we can, today, experience—Worship of the wonderfully Good and ravishingly Beautiful God and Father Almighty, Creator of all good things in the heavens and earth; Adoration of His only Son, our Lord, True Word, True God, and True man, our Saviour; and the Spirit of Holiness who proceeding from Father and Son, indwells us, directs us towards Christ, and moves us to worship in holiness.
David Haines, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy
- Praise the Lord with us for the 78 graduates from Minneapolis, Cameroon, Memphis, and Hawaii as they launch into life and ministry.
- Pray that our students and faculty would find rest this summer as they break from rigorous study and teaching.
- Pray that the Lord would show his faithfulness as we near the end of the On the Double matching gift.