John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For more than thirty years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He is author of more than fifty books, including Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. His sermons, articles, books, and more are available free of charge at desiringGod.org.
I’ve transcribed a YouTube clip in which Pastor John dramatizes St. Augustine’s intense struggle with lust, quoting from the reflections of the Christian reformer himself. For John Piper, the battle against lust boils down to a single question: which is more beautiful–lust or purity? Keep reading for the conclusion St. Augustine arrived at.
One thing is keeping him back: lust.
“I was still held firm in the bonds of a woman’s love. I began to search for a means of gaining the strength I needed to enjoy you.”
You see the issue he’s shaping for us. Sex-enjoyment or you-enjoyment–that’s the issue for Augustine.
“But I could not find this means until I embraced the mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ.”
This is the most important day in his life. It is one of the most important days in church history.
“O, Lord, my helper and my redeemer. And I shall now tell and confess to the glory of your name how you released me from the fetters of lust, which held me so tightly shackled, and from my slavery to the things of this world. . . There was a small garden attached to the house where we lodged. I now found myself driven [this is the afternoon now] by the tumult in my breast to take refuge in this garden where no one could interrupt, that fierce struggle in which I was my own contestant. I was beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity. I was frantic, overcome by violent anger with myself for not accepting your will and entering into your covenant. I tore my hair, I hammered my forehead with my fists. I locked my fingers and hugged my knees. I was held back by mere trifles.”
He began to see at this point the beauty of chastity. You got to see something more powerful, more beautiful, more enjoyable, more delightful, more thrilling, more satisfying than masturbation and the internet, and the concubine, and the weekend fling. It’s just got to ravish you. And it did. He began to see chastity–listen to this description. “
I was held back by mere trifles. They plucked at my garment of flesh and whispered, Are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again forever and ever.”
That’s exactly the way pornography talks–“Never again? Can you say never again to me?”
“And while I stood trembling at the barrier on the other side, I could see chaste beauty of continence in all her serene unsullied joy as she modestly beckoned me to cross over and to hesitate no more. She stretched out loving hands to welcome and embrace me now.”
The battle is down to just the two things–which is more beautiful.
“I flung myself down beneath the fig tree and gave way to the tears that now streamed from my eyes. In my misery, I kept crying and crying. How long shall I go on saying tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”
Some of you are saying that, perhaps, right now.
“All at once [and I may be this for you], the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or girl I cannot say. But again and again, it repeated the refrain Take it and read. . Take it and read. At this I looked up thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember even hearing them. I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.”
That’s what he said.
“So I hurried back to the place where Elipius[?] was sitting, seized the book of Paul’s epistles, opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: Not in reveling, in drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels, and rivalries, rather arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. Spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites (Romans 13:13). I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instance, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled.”
Praise God. Amen.