What Augustine Read On His Death-Bed
Recently I finished a book by Robert Louis Wilken on the first millennium of Christian history, called The First Thousand Years. I realized how little I know about many centuries of the history of Christ’s church. There are hundreds of years in which God has been at work, preserving, protecting, and promoting his gospel through his church around the world, and I know nothing about it! How great is our God!
My appetite has been whetted to learn more about St. Augustine these days. We’ve been reading his Confessions together in our pastoral staff meetings, and his vision of the beauty of the gospel has been a tonic for my soul. Augustine appears to have spent an enormous amount of time gazing upon the beauty of the Lord and meditating in his Word (Psalm 27:4).
But do you know what captivated Augustine’s heart when he lay on his dying bed? Robert Louis Wilken tells us (p. 194):
“As Augustine lay dying, wrote Possidius, ‘he ordered those psalms of David which are especially penitential to be copied out [for example, Have mercy on me according to thy steadfast love . . . For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me, Psalm 51], and when he was very weak, he used to lie in bed facing the wall where the sheets of paper were put up, gazing at them and reading, and copiously and continually weeping as he read.”
I find this account of a godly man’s death strikingly attractive. For there is no contradiction between the joy and assurance of knowing your sins are forgiven, and the tears of penitence that flow from the recognition that you have been a sinner.
When I read this, I thought of Psalm 130:3-4:
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.”
Forgiveness does not make us fear God less - it makes us fear him more: not the dreadful fear of a condemning judge, but the tender fear of a grateful child toward his loving father.
Oh that we would be so mindful of God’s grace that our dying days would be filled with grateful tears of penitence and praise toward our wonderful, merciful Savior!
Fearing our forgiving God, Pastor David Sunday