In this excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions,1 he explains his own struggles as a Christian with the allure of praise from men.
“I am poor and needy,” yet better am I while in secret groanings I displease myself, and seek for Thy mercy, until what is lacking in me be renewed and made complete, even up to that peace of which the eye of the proud is ignorant. Yet the word which proceedeth out of the mouth, and actions known to men, have a most dangerous temptation from the love of praise, which, for the establishing of a certain excellency of our own, gathers together solicited suffrages.
It tempts, even when within I reprove myself for it, on the very ground that it is reproved; and often man glories more vainly of the very scorn of vain-glory; wherefore it is not any longer scorn of vain-glory whereof it glories, for he does not truly contemn it when he inwardly glories.
Within also, within is another evil, arising out of the same kind of temptation; whereby they become empty who please themselves in themselves, although they please not, or displease, or aim at pleasing others. But in pleasing themselves, they much displease Thee, not merely taking pleasure in things not good as if they were good, but in Thy good things as though they were their own; or even as if in Thine, yet as though of their own merits; or even as if though of Thy grace, yet not with friendly rejoicings, but as envying that grace to others.
In all these and similar perils and labours Thou perceivest the trembling of my heart, and I rather feel my wounds to be cured by Thee than not inflicted by me.
Where hast Thou not accompanied me, O Truth, teaching me both what to avoid and what to desire, when I submitted to Thee what I could perceive of sublunary things, and asked Thy counsel? With my external senses, as I could, I viewed the world, and noted the life which my body derives from me, and these my senses.
Thence I advanced inwardly into the recesses of my memory,—the manifold rooms, wondrously full of multitudinous wealth; and I considered and was afraid, and could discern none of these things without Thee, and found none of them to be Thee. Nor was I myself the discoverer of these things,—I, who went over them all, and laboured to distinguish and to value everything according to its dignity, accepting some things upon the report of my senses, and questioning about others which I felt to be mixed up with myself, distinguishing and numbering the reporters themselves, and in the vast storehouse of my memory investigating some things, laying up others, taking out others.
Neither was I myself when I did this (that is, that ability of mine whereby I did it), nor was it Thou, for Thou art that never-failing light which I took counsel of as to them all, whether they were what they were, and what was their worth; and I heard Thee teaching and commanding me. And this I do often; this is a delight to me, and, as far as I can get relief from necessary duties, to this gratification do I resort.
Nor in all these which I review when consulting Thee, find I a secure place for my soul, save in Thee, into whom my scattered members may be gathered together, and nothing of me depart from Thee. And sometimes Thou dost introduce me to a most rare affection, inwardly, to an inexplicable sweetness, which, if it should be perfected in me, I know not to what point that life might not arrive.
But by these wretched weights of mine do I relapse into these things, and am sucked in by my old customs, and am held, and sorrow much, yet am much held. To such an extent does the burden of habit press us down. In this way I can be, but will not; in that I will, but cannot,—on both ways miserable.
1 Confessions 10.38-40. This is the translation by J. G. Pilkington in NPNF1 ed. Phillip Schaff (Buffalo: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 1:160–161. My personal favorite is the rendering by R.S. Pine-Coffin in the Penguin Classics series, but there is no way on earth I was going to type it out here. I do have a life …
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a bi-vocational pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He also works in State government. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?