"the ineffable enjoyment of an unmixed good"

“the ineffable enjoyment of an unmixed good”

One of my best friends called me yesterday and asked me to write a letter to his oldest son, who just graduated from high school. At All Saints we’ve just started a sermon series that will follow the Old Testament lectionary readings.  So, as I started to write, I couldn’t help intertwining our sermon series, my recent readings of Saint Augustine’s The City of God (which is a retelling of the histories of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world), and my words to this young friend.  I hope this letter will give you a greater sense of our new sermon series, our church and city, as well as your own lives with their routes, roundabouts, and meanderings. 


After your dad called me this morning and asked me to write you a
short letter, I read the following passage from Augustine’s The City of
.  Looking back fifteen years into my past to when I was your age and
graduating from high school, I wish I would have read this critique of Rome from
Augustine and understood that it is a fitting description of our culture as
well, so that I might not have so easily fallen in love with Rome’s gods –
power, wealth, success, sensuality, amusement, prosperity.

worshippers and admirers of (Rome’s) gods delight in imitating their scandalous
iniquities, and are nowise concerned that the republic be less depraved and
licentious.  “Only let Rome remain undefeated”, they say, “only let it flourish
and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better,
secure peace; and what matters it to us?”    

They say, “This is our
concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily
prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own
purposes.  Let the poor court the rich for a living, that under their protection
they may enjoy a sluggish tranquility; and let the rich abuse the poor as their
dependents, to minister to their pride.  Let the people applaud not those who
protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure.  Let no
severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden.  Let kings estimate their
prosperity, not by righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects.  Let
the provinces stand loyal to the kings not as moral guides, but as lords of
their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a loving reverence,
but a crooked and servile fear.”

They say, “Let their be a plentiful
supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but
specifically for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use.  Let
their be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description; in these let
there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may,
by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate.  Let there be everywhere heard
the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a
succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a
perpetual excitement.  If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be
branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it, let
him be silenced, banished, or put an end to.”       

Let these be
reckoned (Rome’s) true gods, who procure for the people this condition of
things, and preserve it when once possessed.
II, Chapter 20

“This condition of things,” which Augustine describes
here, is not only true of ancient Rome but of the world, the world into which
you are more fully moving as you move out of your parent’s house.  Read
Augustine’s quote again and replace “Rome” with “university” or “fraternity” or
“America”; also replace “kings” with “leaders” – any leaders: fraternal, student
government, Christian ministry, church, business, politics, etc.  During your
college years you will see Rome’s condition unknowingly imbibed and embraced by
countless peers and friends.  X, you will go to the the large houses with the
sumptuous banquets.  You will see Rome clearly in college; and she will call to
you.  She has been calling; she always calls.  But you don’t have to answer.
There is another city, a better city.  It’s the city Augustine describes as
“the ineffable enjoyment of an unmixed good.”

X, you’re in a similar
place as the one where I was entering college.  I was graduating high school
with high grades, a popular image, an accomplished athletic resume, a penchant
for the party scene and a decided trajectory to follow the next four years.  I
was desperate for and fully expected my successes in high school to continue in
college.  And after my freshman year they had – all of my personal demands and
expectations I had met.  I had succeeded – grades, friends, girls, athletics,
parties.  I had all I wanted in Rome; everything seemed fine and fat for me.  I
was wealthy and  powerful, a king and a purveyor of other’s pleasures.  I’d
lived with prostitutes and dancers; I had gone to the large houses and the
theatres.  I had known perpetual excitement of voluptuous pleasures but not the
ineffable enjoyment of an unmixed good.  And I was tired…and bored.  Success
in Rome is available, easy in fact, but it’s costly.

After my freshman
year I read what’s commonly known as the “parable of the prodigal son” in Luke
15; and I remember identifying with the youngest son’s experience.  Years later
I read Karl Barth’s explanation of this parable.  He said Jesus was the one to
whom the youngest son ultimately pointed.  I think Barth’s right.  Jesus is the
one who entered into the pig sty of our lives, rose from our death, and returned
to His Father’s embrace.  The Son of God left heaven, entered Rome, was “branded
as a public enemy…silenced, banished, and put an end to.”  Then he rose and
returned, but not alone.  He took his people with him.  After my freshman year,
he took me also, with him out of Rome and home to the City of God and my first
tastes of that ineffable enjoyment of an unmixed good.

X, you are a very
bright, accomplished, gifted, strong young man.  Rome will love you, but she’s
not worth you. 

College, for me, certainly was one of the greatest times
of my life, as I’m sure it will be for you also.  It was a time spent in two
cities, though the gifts of one city I still have and enjoy today: my wife, the
two best men in my wedding, my love of literature, my passion for ministry, my
enjoyment of diversity and cultures, my understanding of how big the world
really is, and real communion with Christ and his people.  I pray similar gifts
from the same city for you during college.

X, Elissa and I love you, are
proud of you, and look forward to the Lord’s unfolding of your

Blessings and Peace, my friend,