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What is the "City of God"?

What is the "City of God"?
The City of God is a Biblical concept that Augustine and John Bunyan used to create literary masterpieces about that ideal, eternal place.

“Heroes of Faith” is the name we give sometimes to Hebrews, chapter 11. Its catalog of those living by faith begins with Abel and ends with a reference to unnamed others whose faith was great. I’d like to add two names to that list today: Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and John Bunyan* (1628-1688).

We have looked at them before when we looked at the 28 MOST IMPORTANT WORKS OF CHRISTIAN LITERATURE. One scholar has put these two as foremost among them:

When Christians ask me, “what one book do you wish every Christian would read?” I cheat a bit and say it would be a tie between Confessions by Augustine and The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. DAVID GEORGE MOORE

These are 2 very different men writing at very different times and with very different approaches, but both wrote about our subject today, the City of God.

City of God a Biblical Concept

The term “city of God” appears only twice in the King James Bible (Psalm 46:4 & 87:3), and these refer to the earthly city of Jerusalem.

But the city of God both Augustine and Bunyan write about is not that earthly city but an Eternal one that takes its name from it, the New Jerusalem, a name given by Jesus Himself (Revelation 3:12) and seen by the Apostle John* (Revelation 21:2).
Hebrews 11 tells us that this was what Abraham* was seeking: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. (11:10)

Both Augustine and Bunyan knew and believed all of this, but each wrote about it differently.

City of God: Augustine

Augustine was a philosopher, bishop, and intellectual. He was a sinner “saved by Grace” as recorded in his personal testimony, CONFESSIONS. Augustine completed this when he was just 46 and had another 30 years to live.

Much of this time he devoted himself to writing the City of God his Magnum Opus. And Magnum is in many ways, but first of all in size: 400,000 words, more than twice the 170,000 of the New Testament.

It is not one book, but 22, and far beyond the reading capacity of most of us. Nevertheless, David George Moore encourages us to read and gives THESE 3 REASONS:

  1. To see his ”brilliant response to prove that Christians were not responsible for the fall of Rome” and how we can use his model today.

  2. To recover Augustine’s persuasive strategy for reaching unbelievers.

  3. To encounter the love that is so central to Augustine’s writing and life.

The occasion for writing the City of God was the sack of Rome by the Visigoths (Western Goths) in 410. This was a great calamity for its people, and many of its pagan citizens blamed Christianity for inducing Romans to leave their traditional gods.

Augustine devoted 10 of the City of God’s 22 books to proving that the old gods had no power and that their worship was a corruption of the true worship of God, i.e., Christianity:

“Indeed, the only cause of their [Rome] perishing was that they chose for their protectors gods condemned to perish.” ― St. Augustine, THE CITY OF GOD

Many people of Augustine’s time identified Rome as the city of God, much as many today see the USA or the United Kingdom, or the State of Israel as God’s realm. Not so, Augustine says. The City of God is Eternal and its members are those who love Jesus. All earthly cities are the result of sin.

He goes back to Cain and Abel to show that God’s City was already in place and that the first city founded on earth was built by Cain* after he had murdered his righteous brother then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden…. and he built a city. –Genesis 4:17

This was the first city in the Bible, but every one that followed was a rebellion against the City of God. The City of God is the result of God’s love while the city of man is a result of self-worship.

“… the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.”― Augustine of Hippo, CITY OF GOD

Here is his fuller explanation:

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.
The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. (The City of God, 14.28)

Love of God is the driving force in the City of God.

And Augustine himself was a product of this love. It so filled him that he loved the souls of his unbelieving opponents and learned all that he could about them so that he could deliver them from false gods and lead them to salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell; It goes beyond the highest star, And reaches to the lowest hell; The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win; His erring child He reconciled, And pardoned from his sin. Refrain O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure The saints’ and angels’ song. FRED­ER­ICK M. LEH­MAN, 1917

City of God Bunyan

John Bunyan was not a philosopher, churchman, or intellectual. He was definitely not upper-class or sophisticated. His parents educated him at a grammar school, and he was a tinker (a mender of pots and other utensils) like his father.

At 16 he joined Cromwell’s* army and later returned to his father’s trade. He married a pious young woman but was not saved until he heard a voice from heaven say :

“Wilt thou leave thy sins, and go to Heaven? Or have thy sins, and go to Hell?”

Quite a different message than Augustine’s mystery voice telling him to open a Bible and read, but a nice illustration of their characters and backgrounds. How wonderful that God sent such miraculous calls to each!

Bunyan began attending a small non-conformist congregation and was soon asked to preach. His little congregation grew as Bunyan ministered to them.

But then the king (Charles II) had him arrested because he was not willing to conform to the Church of England.

In jail for 12 years, Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory that presents Christian as a man called to leave the City of Destruction to travel to the Celestial City, the City of God he saw in the Bible, not the City of God Augustine wrote about.

This is not to say one or the other missed the mark, but only that their point of view was conditioned by their circumstances.

Bunyan was oppressed by the Church of England, claiming to be operating as the true church of Christ, but it was not. It certainly was not operating in the spirit of love we see in Augustine.

Bunyan’s City of God was the Celestial City, that eternal city in Heaven, quite apart from the world and its cities. It is the dwelling place of God and located on “Mt. Zion.”

To enter there, Christian had to cross the River of Death and enter with his passport given to him by angels when he lost his burden of sin at the cross.

Between the cross and the Celestial City lay many enemies and earthly cities, illustrated by a town called Vanity, where

Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein, should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the yearlong:
therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold, as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. –– Pilgrims Progress

Christian is attacked by Beelzebub shortly after he leaves the City of Destruction to travel to Mt. Zion, and demons and enemies of Jesus battle Christian all his way. He is attacked in many ways but is always delivered by the Word of God.

In fact, his journey begins with this question;

What shall I do?” [Acts 2:37] and ends with this: ENTER YE INTO THE JOY OF YOUR LORD.“ – Jesus in Matthew 25:22

I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying,


Come, we that love the Lord, And let our joys be known; Join in a song with sweet accord, Join in a song with sweet accord And thus surround the throne, And thus surround the throne. Refrain We’re marching to Zion, Beautiful, beautiful Zion; We’re marching upward to Zion, The beautiful city of God. IS­AAC WATTS, 1707,

City of God Augustine vs. City of God Bunyan

Augustine’s presentation of the City of God is a philosophical/theological one and has served as a foundation for the church and Christian doctrine. Drawn from the scriptures, the text is explained and illustrated by Greek philosophy and presented as a global view with universal application.

Bunyan’s City of God is a specific destination for an individual Christian. While Augustine’s work is a treatise, Bunyan’s is a story, the first English novel. Of it C.S. Lewis said:

Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.
That is why an uneducated believer like Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the whole world.”–C.S. Lewis

“One might say that the history of Western theology is simply a series of footnotes to Augustine. The fifth century African father towers mightily over the succeeding centuries like some spiritual version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and we petty men Walk under his huge legs, and peep aboutNICK NEEDHAM

Not only is St. Augustine’s book important, in some ways it’s transformative. In the “City of God,” we have for the very first time a theology of universal human history. – SCOTT HAHN

City of God: What’s my place?

Both Augustine and Bunyan knew they were soldiers in the never-ending spiritual warfare between good and evil. The devil is constantly attacking, and we need to enlist for Jesus. He will welcome us, protect us and surely find each one of us a place. God chose you before the foundation of the world to be His temple. He was you to abide in Him and He will abide in us and bring us to the exact place He has prepared for us. The place is important, but even more important is the journey, walking with Jesus, and being His friend.

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