Have You Met Augustine the Evangelist?

The image of Augustine as a pastor delivering evangelistic sermons doesn’t fit our mold, but it should.

Augustine was a pastor who preached the gospel with urgency. Certainly, he was brilliant; he penned works of literature that are now Western classics. But he was first and foremost a shepherd calling sinners to believe in Christ. Examining two of his sermons might bring to life Augustine as pastor-evangelist.

 

He was a zealous evangelist who preached with urgency and compassion, exhorting his hearers to believe the gospel. He believed hell was at stake and all who died in their sins would go there.

This doesn’t sound like Augustine as we typically think of him, does it? It sounds more like Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield or Charles Spurgeon. The Augustine we know is a philosophical theologian and church official in North Africa.

The image of Augustine as a pastor delivering evangelistic sermons doesn’t fit our mold. But the mountain of sermons he left shows the centrality of his preaching ministry. He preached four to five times every week. Imagine the energy this practice required. And his sermons reveal the kind of preacher he was, too—a passionate herald of the gospel of Christ.

Without this side of his ministry, we will miss the authentic Augustine.

On the Sawdust Trail

Even the most studious Christians know relatively little about Augustine beyond his Confessions or The City of God. But these works represent just a fraction of the material we have. Augustine’s sermons fill 11 volumes, and give a full picture of his pastorate. There we discover a man who labored for decades in Hippo as a minister—a different image than the austere lecturer we sometimes envision.

Augustine was a pastor who preached the gospel with urgency. Certainly, he was brilliant; he penned works of literature that are now Western classics. But he was first and foremost a shepherd calling sinners to believe in Christ. Examining two of his sermons might bring to life Augustine as pastor-evangelist.

Evangelistic Ring

In AD 397, Augustine preached his first sermon, from Mark 1:15: “The times are fulfilled and the kingdom of God has drawn near: repent and believe the gospel.” Here Jesus declares the coming kingdom and the universal need for salvation. Augustine emphasized Christ’s mercy, but clarified that such kindness extends only to those who repent and believe. He thus urged his hearers to repent “while the world is still echoing to these words of mercy, before he comes to set up the tribunal of justice.”

Augustine is clear that Christ came to offer mercy, but judgment is pending for the obstinate. But what does “repentance” mean? It means to “renounce [sin] and be converted.” Our only hope is to “believe in the living God” and to renounce “dead works.” Indeed, no one attains salvation through works: “It is not, indeed, the merit of good works that brought you to faith; but faith begins, so that good works may follow.”

Read More