Any list of the spiritually great must include Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. A hundred informed men who might vote on who were the mightiest Christians since Paul would be likely to differ widely, but it is safe to assume that every one of them would mention Augustine. So great was he, intellectually and spiritually.
The ages have known how great a Christian Augustine was, but apparently he himself did not know. At the beginning of his famous devotion work, the Confessions, he says, “Narrow is the mansion of any soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in.” This was spoken in utter sincerity, and it may give us a hint of the secret of his greatness.
Augustine’s vision of God was so tremendous that his own little capacity to receive seemed to him intolerably restricted. God was to him so vast, so worldfilling, that no temple could contain Him, no shrine enclose Him. He fills heaven and the heaven of heavens, and the world itself is too mall to receive Him. And when Augustine looked within his own heart he saw only narrowness and constriction; and it made him sick. “Enlarge Thou it!” was the involuntary cry of his soul.
How vastly different is this from the self-satisfied spirit we see everywhere these days. To be saved appears to be the highest ambition of most Christians today. To have eternal life and know it is the highest aspiration of many. Here they begin and here thy end. Around this one theme they build their narrow temples, and in these cramped confines they sing their congratulatory songs and offer their cheery thanks.
The widest thing in the universe is not space; it is the potential capacity of the human heart. Being made in the image of God it is capable of almost unlimited extension in all directions. And one of the world’s worst tragedies is that we allow our hearts to shrink until there is room for little beside ourselves. Wordsworth lamented the fact that as we get older our world grows smaller and the “light that never was on land or sea” dims slowly down and goes out at last.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison house begin to close
Upon the growing boy.
But he behold the light and whence it flows.
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Of all persons Christians should have the largest hearts; to them the narrowing of the heart should be an unthinkable calamity. They should seek for inner enlargement till their outward dimension gives no hint of the vastness within. To be great outwardly and small with in is a kind of hypocrisy, but the modesty that hides a spacious interior under a simple exterior must be most pleasing to God.
One of the most stinging criticisms made against Christians is that their minds are narrow and their hearts small. Most of this is probably unfair and untrue, but that it can be made at all is sufficient cause for serious heart searching and prayer. Godliness suggests godlikeness, and to be Godlike is certainly to be magnanimous. God enfolds the world in His heart and contains the created universe. Restricted sympathies make us unlike God, and the bravest thing we can do is to admit it. Nothing is so futile as trying to defend our moral introversion against the sharp eyes of the world. We should remove the ground of the criticism rather than deny it.
Paul was a little man with a vast interior life; his great heart was often wounded by the narrowness of his disciples. The Christians at Corinth especially gave him much pain because of their inward constrictions. The sight of their shrunken souls hurt him too much, and he once burst out in a cry of mingled indignation and love,”our mouth is open unto you, O Corinthians,our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own afflictions. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as unto my children), b ye also enlarged” (2 Cor 6:11-13 R.V.).
If any wonder how they can enlarge their hearts we hasten to tell them that they cannot do it. Paul said, “Be ye also enlarged,” but he did not say, “Enlarge yourselves.” That they could not do. Only God can work in the heart. The Architect and builder of the soul alone can build it anew after the cyclone of sin has gone over it and left only one small room standing.
We may expect a wondrous enlargement if we surrender our hearts to God and ask Him to begin to work within us. And who knows what He can do if we take our hands off and let Him work? “How knowest thou what nobility God has bestowed on human nature,” asks Meister Eckhart, “what perfections yet uncatalogued, aye, ye undiscovered?
And one singular characteristic of the enlarging life is that it is quietly unaware of itself. The largest heart is likely to be heart praying, “Narrow is the mansion of my soul. Enlarge Thou it.”
A. W. Tozer Narrow Mansions is from Alliance Weekly 31 October 1951