Chapter 5 of The Triumph of Grace: Augustine's Writings on Salvation - posted with permission
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST
‘Can we possibly, without utter absurdity, maintain that there first existed in anyone the good virtue of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his heart of stone? How can we say this, when all the time this heart of stone itself signifies precisely a will of the hardest kind, a will that is absolutely inflexible against God? For if a good will comes first, there is obviously no longer a heart of stone.’
Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, 29
‘For we are now speaking of the desire for goodness. If they want to say that this begins from ourselves and is then perfected by God, let them see how they can answer the apostle when he says, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5)’
Augustine, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:18
Richard was a fairly recent convert to the Augustinian understanding of grace. One Sunday, he visited a church where the preacher seemed to go out of his way to show the congregation how utterly dependent on God they were for their spiritual life. There can be no self-reliance, he declared, no looking to ourselves; all goodness, all holiness flow from God to us. Why, even the very faith by which we believe and trust in God is itself His gift to sinners! ‘This is good,’ Richard thought. ‘The man has clearly grasped the sovereignty of grace in salvation. Augustine would be pleased with him.’ But alas, Richard’s verdict was premature. Suddenly the sermon went sensationally pear-shaped. After all the extolling of God as the giver of faith, the preacher suddenly added: ‘But of course, even though faith is God’s gift, we have to accept the gift by our free wills. We can refuse it if we choose. It’s up to us.’ By the time it was all over, Richard left church feeling rather deflated. ‘It’s up to us’ seemed a strange note on which to conclude a celebration of God’s grace.
Richard was right to feel deflated. If it is ultimately ‘up to us’ to make sure we accept the divine gift of faith, then manifestly God is not the giver of all our spiritual virtues (which is what the preacher in the church Richard was visiting had started out by saying). Apparently, I have something in me, some act of my own, which reaches out and grasps God’s kind offer of faith. What is this ‘something’? It can’t be faith, because faith is what God is offering to give me. I don’t know how the preacher would have described this mysterious ‘something’. Repentance, perhaps? Can I repent by my own will, and God then crowns my cake of repentance with the icing of faith? But where did the repentance come from? If I can repent by my own will, why can’t I believe and trust by my own will? Doesn’t the same Scripture that says faith is God’s gift (Eph.2:8, Phil.1:29) also say that repentance is His gift (Acts 5:31, 2 Tim.2:25)? Maybe the preacher would have acknowledged that repentance is God’s gift. But probably it would then have fared no better than faith. Probably the preacher would have said, ‘But of course, even though repentance is God’s gift, we have to accept the gift by our free wills. We can refuse it if we choose. It’s up to us.’
What is it in me that accepts repentance, then? A spiritually softened heart, perhaps? But if I can soften my own heart by my own will (or does that mean ‘soften my will by my own will’?), why can’t I repent by my own will, or believe by my own will? And doesn’t the same Scripture that says faith and repentance are God’s gifts also say that the heart of flesh is His gift (Deut.30:6, Ezek.36:26-27)? Maybe the preacher would have acknowledged that the heart of flesh is God’s gift too. But probably it would then have fared no better than faith and repentance. Probably the preacher would have said, ‘But of course, even though the heart of flesh is God’s gift, we have to accept the gift by our free wills. We can refuse it if we choose. It’s up to us.’
What is it in me that accepts the heart of flesh, then? Is it perhaps…. But we have been here before, and by now it is getting a touch silly. Like some bizarre spiritual board game, we are constantly going one square forwards and two squares backwards. And somehow, we always end up on a square that says, ‘It’s up to us.’
Augustine’s theology of the new life in Christ was really just a way of saying, ‘It’s not up to us.’ Our new life in Christ comes from Christ. From its first stirrings to its final consummation, it comes from Christ. Faith, repentance, the softened heart, and any other virtue that can be named ¾ they all come from Christ. Our conversion comes from Christ. Our regeneration comes from Christ. Our spiritual illumination comes from Christ. Our desire for Christ comes from Christ. Our seeking after Christ comes from Christ. As that great Italian Augustinian, Thomas Aquinas, was to teach 800 years after Augustine’s death, nothing comes before grace. All the things that we might think make us ready for grace are themselves the work of grace. If we insist on talking about ‘accepting grace’, even the acceptance of grace is created in us by grace.
The truth about grace, then, is both simple and radical. The first brick in the foundation of our salvation is laid in us by Christ, just as the last tile on the roof will be. He creates us afresh. He begets us again. He raises us from the dead. At no point can we take any credit to ourselves. No true Christian has the slightest wish to take any credit to himself or herself. That is why, as I said in the Introduction, all God’s redeemed children are Augustinians when they pray. They may be Semi-Pelagians in their heads, but their twice-born hearts know better, and when they speak to their God, they give Him all the praise, gratitude and glory for saving them. Lex orandi lex credendi: the law of praying is the law of believing.
Of course, if Augustine is right in his understanding of what the Bible says about the bondage of our fallen wills, it follows that our spiritual regeneration must necessarily come only and utterly from Christ. Left to our own devices, all we ever do is sin; for we love created things, not the Creator, and our lives are built on that false love. There is no beauty in Christ that we should desire Him. We are too busy desiring other things. That is why ‘It’s up to us’ is such a tragically hopeless recipe for any kind of salvation. Scripture describes our salvation as a new creation, a rebirth, a resurrection. Yet God did not say to a non-existent universe, ‘I’m offering to create you, but it’s up to you to accept the offer.’ Parents do not say to non-existent children, ‘We’re offering to conceive you, but it’s up to you to accept the offer.’ The Lord did not say to Lazarus, ‘I’m offering to resurrect you from the tomb, but it’s up to you to accept the offer.’ The depth and horrible complexity of our corruption make just as futile any ‘It’s up to you’ scheme of salvation. If indeed it is ‘up to us,’ whether in the Pelagian sense (obey the law and win heaven!) or the Semi-Pelagian sense (accept the offer of salvation!), then no-one will ever be saved. As Benjamin Warfield commented, a gospel of ‘Whosoever will’ is not much good in a world of universal ‘Won’t!’
Augustine knew that however daintily it is dressed, however carefully it is qualified, however tiny the amount it leaves to us to contribute to our own salvation, ‘It’s up to us’ is always a counsel of hellish despair for sinners deceived and broken and exhausted and blinded and driven mad and killed by sin. He would have none of it, either for himself, or for his flock, or for the Church Catholic. The bishop of Hippo sang loud and clear with his theological mind the song of confession and praise that every saved heart knows well:
‘It’s not up to us! We were dead in our transgressions and sins, in which we used to live when we followed the ways of the world. We were under the power of the prince of this world, the spirit who is now at work in the children of disobedience. We lived among them. We gratified the cravings of the flesh and followed its desires and thoughts. We were by nature the children of wrath, like the rest. But God, Who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead in transgressions. By grace we have been saved. By grace, through faith ¾ and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God. No works. No-one can boast. God Who said, “Let light shine out of darkness!” caused His light to shine in our hearts, giving us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, shining in the face of Christ. We were foolish, obstinate, deluded, the slaves of various cravings and pleasures, spending our lives in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But the kindness and love of God our Saviour dawned upon us, and He saved us, not in consequence of righteous things we did, but because of His mercy. Yes, He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. By grace we are justified. We are new creations in Christ. The old has passed away. The new has come. All this is from God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Thanks be to God!’
THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST [The following are all Augustine's quotations with reference]
A definition of grace
The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord must be understood as follows: grace is the only thing that delivers human beings from evil; without it, they do absolutely nothing good, whether in thought, or in will and emotion, or in action. Grace not only makes known to people what they ought to do, but also enables them to perform with love the duty that they know.
The apostle Paul certainly asked God to inspire the Corinthians with this good will and action when he said, ‘Now we pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear to be approved, but that you should do what is good’ (2 Cor.13:7). Who can hear this and not wake up and confess that the Lord God is the One Who turns us away from evil so that we do good? For the apostle does not say, ‘We admonish, we teach, we exhort, we rebuke.’ He says, ‘We pray to God that you do no evil, but that you should do what is good.’ Of course, he was also in the habit of speaking to them, and doing all those things which I have mentioned — he admonished, he taught, he exhorted, he rebuked. But he knew that all these things which he was openly doing in the way of planting and watering were of no avail, unless He Who secretly gives the increase answered his prayer on the Corinthians’ behalf. For as the same teacher of the Gentiles says, ‘Neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God Who gives the increase’ (1 Cor.3:7).
On Rebuke and Grace, 3
Two more definitions
Listen to the apostle Paul when he says, ‘Love is the fulfilment of the law’ (Rom.13:10). How do we obtain the love? By the grace of God. By the Holy Spirit. For we could not have it from ourselves, as if we created it for ourselves. Love is the gift of God. And a great gift it is! For the apostle says, ‘The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us’ (Rom.5:5).
Sermons on John, 17:6
For them [the Pelagians], grace means the knowledge with which the Lord God helps us, by which we can know what our duty is. The true meaning of grace, however, is the love that God breathes into us, which enables us with a holy delight to carry out the duty that we know.
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 4:11
No-one has any right to God’s grace
The grace of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be saved, is not bestowed on account of any virtues, but is given gratuitously, which is why it is called ‘grace’. As Paul says, ‘being justified freely through His blood’ (Rom.3:24). So those who are not liberated by grace are indeed justly condemned ¾ those who are not yet able to hear, those who are unwilling to obey, or again those who did not receive (at the time when their youth made them unable to hear) that washing of regeneration, which they might have received and through which they might have been saved. All these are justly condemned, because they are not without sin, either the sin that they have derived from their birth, or the sin that they have added from their own misconduct. ‘For all have sinned’ whether in Adam or in themselves ‘and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom.3:23).
The entire mass of humanity, therefore, becomes liable to punishment. And if the deserved punishment of condemnation were inflicted on all, it would without doubt be righteously inflicted. Consequently, those who are delivered from punishment by grace are called, not vessels of their own virtues, but ‘vessels of mercy’ (Rom.9:23). Whose mercy? God’s ¾ the One Who sent Christ Jesus into the world to save the sinners whom He foreknew, and predestined, and called, and justified, and glorified. Now, who could be so madly insane as to fail to give inexpressible thanks to the mercy which liberates whom it chooses? The person who correctly appreciated the whole subject could not possibly blame the justice of God if He utterly condemned all people absolutely.
On Nature and Grace, 4-5
There is no true goodness in us prior to our conversion
You [Julian of Eclanum] think that a person is helped by the grace of God in a good work, in such a way that grace does nothing to stir up his will towards that good work. Your own words sufficiently declare this. For why have you failed to say that a person is aroused by God’s grace to a good work, as you have indeed said that he is aroused to evil by the suggestions of the devil? Why have you merely said that a person is always ‘helped’ in a good work by God’s grace? As if by his own will, and without any grace of God, he undertook a good work, and then was divinely helped in the work itself, on account of the virtues of his good will. In that case, grace is rendered as something due, rather than given as a gift — and so grace is no longer grace. But this is what, in the Palestinian verdict [the synod of Diospolis — see Introduction], Pelagius with a deceitful heart condemned, namely, that the grace of God is given according to our virtues.
Tell me, please, what good Paul willed while he was still Saul, when he was in fact willing great evils, breathing out slaughter as he went, in a horrible darkness of mind and madness, to destroy Christians? What virtues of Saul’s good will prompted God to convert him by a marvellous and sudden call from those evils to good things? What shall I say, when Paul himself cries, ‘Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us’ (Tit.3:5)? And what about that saying of the Lord which I have already mentioned, ‘No one can come to Me’ — that is, ‘believe in Me’ — ‘unless it has been granted to him by My Father’ (Jn.6:65)? Is faith given to the person who is already willing to believe, in recognition of the virtues of his good will? Or rather, is not the will itself stirred up from above, as in the case of Saul, in order that he may believe, even though he is so hostile to the faith that he persecutes believers?
Indeed, how has the Lord commanded us to pray for those who persecute us? Do we pray that the grace of God may reward them for their good will? Do we not rather pray that the evil will itself may be changed into a good one? Surely the saints whom Saul was persecuting prayed for Saul, that his will might be converted to the faith which he was destroying; and they did not pray in vain. Indeed, the obviously miraculous nature of Saul’s conversion made it clear that it originated in heaven. How many enemies of Christ at the present day are suddenly drawn to Him by God’s secret grace! And let me set down this word from the gospel: ‘No-one can come to Me, unless the Father Who sent me draws him’ (Jn.6:44). What would Julian not have said against me, if it were not for that verse? As it is, he is rousing himself, not against me, but against Christ Who spoke these words. For He does not say, ‘unless He leads him,’ which would have allowed us to think that the person’s will went beforehand. But who is ‘drawn,’ if he was already willing? And yet no-one comes unless he is willing. Therefore in wondrous ways a person is drawn into a state of willingness, by Him who knows how to work within the very hearts of human beings. Not that unwilling people are made to believe, which cannot be. Rather, unwilling people are
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 1:37
The proud Pelagian takes the credit for his own goodness
What good does it do the Pelagians to praise free will by saying, ‘grace assists everyone’s good resolution’? We could accept this without hesitation as being said in a Catholic spirit, if they did not attribute worthiness to the good resolution. For that would mean that God’s assistance was now a wage paid as a debt to this worthiness ¾ and that is no longer grace. They need to understand and confess that even that good resolution itself, which grace then comes and assists, could not have existed in a person if grace had not gone before it. How can there be a good resolution in someone without the mercy of God going first, since it is the good will which is itself prepared by the Lord?
When the Pelagians say that ‘grace assists everyone’s good resolution,’ and then add, ‘yet grace does not infuse the love of virtue into a heart that resists,’ even this might be understood in a right sense, except that we know what they really mean. For in the case of the heart that resists, God’s grace itself first of all makes the heart willing to hear the divine call; and then, the heart no longer resisting, grace kindles the desire for virtue. So then, in everything where anyone does anything in accordance with God, God’s mercy works first. And this our adversaries will not confess, because they choose to be not Catholics, but Pelagians. For it gives much delight to a proud ungodliness to think that, even when a person is forced to acknowledge that the Lord has given him something, it was not given as a gift, but paid in return for something. In this way, the children of destruction, not of the promise, think that they have made themselves good, and that God has repaid the self-made virtuous the reward they deserve for their work.
This is the pride that has blocked up the ears of the Pelagians’ hearts, so that they do not hear, ‘For what do you have that you did not receive?’ (1 Cor.4:7) They do not hear, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5) They do not hear, ‘Love is from God’ (1 Jn.4:7) They do not hear, ‘God has dealt out to each one a measure of faith’ (Rom.12:3). They do not hear, ‘The Spirit breathes where He wills’ (Jn.3:8), and, ‘Those who are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God’ (Rom.8:14). They do not hear, ‘No-one can come to Me, unless it has been granted to him by My Father’ (Rom.8:14). They do not hear what Ezra writes, ‘Blessed is the Lord of our fathers, Who has put into the heart of the king to glorify His house which is in Jerusalem’ (Ezra 7:27). They do not hear what the Lord says through Jeremiah, ‘And I will put My fear into their heart, so that they will not depart not Me. Yes, I will visit them to make them good’ (Jer.32:40-41).
And especially they do not hear that word spoken by Ezekiel the prophet, where God fully shows that He does not make people good (that is, obedient to His commands) because He is moved by worthy qualities in them. No, He repays people good for evil, by doing this for His own sake, and not for theirs. For He says, ‘Thus says the Lord God: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations, where you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in the midst of them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, I will cleanse you. A new heart also I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My ordinances, and do them’ (Ezek.36:22-27).
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 4:13-14
God is the source of the new heart and Christian obedience
What does the putrid flesh of humanity have left to puff itself up with, and to refuse to glory in the Lord? Whatever it claims it has done to achieve virtue by its own effort, so that God must then reward it — against all such claims it shall be answered, it shall be exclaimed, it shall be contradicted, ‘I do it; but for My own holy name’s sake; I do not do it for your sakes, says the Lord God’ (Ezek.36:22). Nothing so overthrows the Pelagians when they say that the grace of God is given according to our virtues. (In fact, Pelagius himself condemned this view, although he did not embrace the correct one — he was just afraid of the Eastern judges.) Nothing so overthrows the arrogance of people who say, ‘We do it, that we may by our virtues establish a basis for God to work.’ It is not Pelagius that answers you, but the Lord Himself: ‘I do it, and not for your sakes, but for My own holy name’s sake.’ For what good can you do out of a heart that is not good? But in order that you may have a good heart, He says, ‘I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you’ (Ezek.36:26).
Can you say, ‘We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgments, and will act in a worthy way, so that He will give His grace to us’? But what good would you evil people d? And how would you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But Who causes people to be good? Only He Who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good,’ and, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them’ (Ezek.36:27). Are you asleep? Can’t you hear Him saying, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,’ lastly, ‘I will make you to do’? Really, are you still puffing yourselves up? We walk, true enough, and we observe, and we do; but it is God Who He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy going before us.
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 4:15
Without Me, you can do nothing
The Pelagians think they have good grounds for accusing us of false teaching when we say, ‘God inspires an unwilling and resisting person with the desire,’ not for any very great good, but ‘even for imperfect good.’ Possibly, then, they themselves are keeping open a place for grace (at least in some sense) by thinking as follows: a person can have the desire for good without grace, but only for imperfect good; he could not easily have the desire for perfect good even with grace, but without grace he could not desire perfect good at all.
But actually, even this view sees God’s grace as being given according to our virtues (which Pelagius, in the church synod in the East, condemned, merely from the fear of being condemned). For if the desire for good begins from ourselves without God’s grace, virtue itself will have begun — and to this virtue, the assistance of grace then comes, as if it were owed. Thus God’s grace is not bestowed freely, but is given according to our virtue. However, in order that he might provide a reply to the future Pelagius, the Lord does not say, ‘Without Me, it is with difficulty that you can do anything,’ but He says, ‘Without Me, you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5). And, that He might also provide an answer to these future heretics, in that very same Gospel saying He does not say, ‘Without me you can bring nothing to perfection,’ but ‘do’ nothing. For if He had said ‘bring nothing to perfection’, they might say that God’s help is necessary, not for beginning good, which rests with ourselves, but for perfecting it. But let them hear the apostle too. For when the Lord says, ‘Without me you can do nothing,’ in this one word He comprehends both the beginning and the ending. The apostle, indeed, as if he were an expounder of the Lord’s saying, distinguishes both [beginning and ending] very clearly when he says, ‘Because He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it even to the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil.1:6).
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:18
From first beginnings to final completion, salvation is by grace
Since these things are so, everything that is commanded to human beings by the Lord in the holy Scriptures, for the sake of testing human free will, is either something we begin to obey by God’s goodness, or is demanded in order to show us our need of grace to do it. Indeed, a person does not even begin to be changed from evil to good by the first stirrings of faith, unless the free and gratuitous mercy of God produces this in him…. So, therefore, we should think of God’s grace as working from the beginning of a person’s changing towards goodness, even to the end of its completion, so that he who glories may glory in the Lord. For just as no-one can bring goodness to perfection without the Lord, so no one can begin it without the Lord.
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:23
Pelagius turns grace into a reward for human goodness
Then again, whatever it is that Pelagius means by ‘grace,’ he says is given even to Christians according to their virtues, although (as I have already mentioned above), when he was in Palestine, in his truly remarkable vindication of himself, he condemned those who hold this opinion! Now these are his words: referring to non-Christians, he says, ‘In these, the good of their created condition is naked and defenceless.’ Then he adds: ‘In those, however, who belong to Christ, there is defence afforded by Christ’s help.’ You see it is still uncertain what this ‘help’ is, according to the remark we have already made on the same subject. Pelagius goes on, however, to say of those who are not Christians: ‘They deserve judgment and condemnation, because they possess free will whereby they could come to have faith and deserve God’s grace, but they make a bad use of the freedom which has been granted to them. But as for those who by the right use of free will merit the Lord’s grace, and keep His commandments ¾ these deserve to be rewarded.’
Now it is clear; he says grace is bestowed according to worthiness (whatever he means by grace, which he does not make clear). For when he speaks about people deserving reward because they make a good use of their free will, so that they merit the Lord’s grace, he asserts in fact that a debt is paid to them. What, then, becomes of the apostle’s saying, ‘Being justified freely by His grace ‘ (Rom.3:24)? And what of his other statement too, ‘By grace you are saved’ (Eph.2:8)? In this verse, Paul prevents us from supposing that salvation is by works, by expressly adding, ‘by faith.’ And even further, in case anyone imagines that faith itself is of human origin independently of the grace of God, the apostle says: ‘And that not of yourselves; for it
is the gift of God.’
On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin, 1:34
The Pelagians call it ‘fate’; we call it ‘grace’
I was carefully meditating about why the Pelagians think they have a trump card when they accuse us of teaching ‘fate’ under the name of grace. So I first of all looked into their statements on the matter. They thought they could bring this objection against us: ‘Under the name of grace, they teach fate, for they say that unless God inspired an unwilling and resisting person with the desire for good (even an imperfect good), he would not be able to cease from evil, nor to embrace good.’ Then a little later, they assert their own beliefs, which I also examined: ‘We confess that baptism is necessary for all ages, and that grace assists the good resolutions of everybody. But grace does not infuse the love of virtue into a reluctant soul, because there is no favouritism with
From these words of theirs, I perceived that the Pelagians think (or wish others to think) that we ‘teach fate under the name of grace’ merely because we say that God’s grace is not given in respect of our virtues, but according to God’s own most merciful will. For He said, ‘I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy’ (Rom.9:15). And by way of consequence, Scripture adds, ‘Therefore it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God Who shows mercy’ (Rom.9:16). Here, anyone might be equally foolish in thinking or saying that the apostle teaches fate! But these Pelagians sufficiently lay themselves open to accusation. For when they slander us by saying that we ‘maintain fate under the name of grace’, because we say that God’s grace is not given on account of our virtues, beyond a doubt they confess that they themselves say that grace is given on account of our virtues!
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:10
The effective transforming teaching of the Holy Spirit
The kind of teaching we are talking about is spoken of by the Lord when He says: ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me’ (Jn.6:45). So if someone does not come to Christ, we cannot correctly say of him, ‘he has heard and learned that he ought to come to Christ, but he is not willing to do what he has learned.’ It is indeed absolutely improper to apply such a statement to God’s method of teaching people by grace. For if, as the Truth says, ‘Everyone who has learned comes,’ it follows, of course, that whoever does not come has not learned. But who can fail to see that a person’s coming or not coming is by the choice of his will? If a person does not come to Christ, he has simply made his choice not to come. But if he does come, it cannot be without assistance — such assistance that he not only knows what it is he ought to do, but actually does what he knows.
And so, when God teaches, it is not by the letter of the law, but by the grace of the Spirit. Moreover, He teaches so that whatever a person learns, he not only sees it with his perception, but also desires it with his choice, and accomplishes it in action. By this method of divine instruction, our very choosing itself, and our very performance itself, are assisted, and not merely our natural ‘capacity’ of willing and performing. For if nothing but this ‘capacity’ of ours were assisted by this grace, the Lord would have said, ‘Everyone that has heard and learned from the Father may possibly come to Me.’ This, however, is not what He said. His words are these: ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’
Now Pelagius says that the possibility of coming lies in our nature. Or as we even found him attempting to say some time ago, it lies in grace (whatever that may mean according to him), as when he says, ‘grace assists our capacity of coming to Christ.’ But he holds that our actual coming to Christ lies in our own will and act. Now just because a person may come to Christ, it does not follow that he actually comes, unless he has also willed and acted to come. But everyone who has learned from the Father not only has the possibility of coming, but actually comes! And in this result are already included the use of the capacity, the affection of the will, and the effect of the action.
On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin, 1:27
Only those taught by the Father come to Christ
Accordingly, our only Master and Lord Himself, when He had said what I previously mentioned — ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ (Jn.6:29) — says a little afterwards in the same discourse, ‘I said to you that you also have seen Me and have not believed. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me’ (Jn.6:37). What is the meaning of ‘will come to Me’ but ‘will believe in Me’? But it is the Father’s gift that this happens. Moreover, a little later Jesus says, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No-one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes to Me’ (Jn.6:43-5). What is the meaning of ‘Everyone who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes to Me,’ except that there is no-one who fails to come to Me if they hear from the Father and learn? For if everyone who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes, then certainly everyone who does not come has not heard from the Father! For if he had heard and learned, he would come. No-one has heard and learned, and yet has failed to come. But everyone, as the Truth declares, who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes.
This teaching in which the Father is heard, and teaches to come to the Son, is far removed from the senses of the flesh. The Son Himself is also involved in this teaching, because He is the Father’s Word by which He teaches; and He does not do this through the ear of the flesh, but the ear of the heart. The Spirit of the Father and of the Son is also, at the same time, involved in this teaching; He, too, teaches, and does not teach separately, for we have learned that the workings of the Trinity are inseparable. And that is certainly the same Holy Spirit of Whom the apostle says, ‘We, however, having the same Spirit of faith’ (2 Cor.4:13). But this teaching is especially ascribed to the Father, because the Only Begotten is begotten from Him, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from Him, of which it would be tedious to argue more elaborately. I think that my work in fifteen books on the Trinity which God is, has already reached you.
No, this instruction in which God is heard and teaches is very far removed, I say, from the senses of the flesh. We see that many come to the Son because we see that many believe in Christ; but when and how they have heard and learned this from the Father, we do not see. It is true that that grace is exceedingly secret, but who doubts that it is grace? This grace, therefore, which is invisibly bestowed on human hearts by the divine gift, is not rejected by any hard heart — because it is given for the purpose of first taking away the hardness of the heart! When, therefore, the Father is heard within, and teaches, so that a person comes to the Son, He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, as He has promised in the declaration of the prophet. He thus makes them children and vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory.
On the Predestination of the Saints, 13
Free will and a good will both come from God
It is not enough simply to have choice of will, which is freely turned in this direction and that, and belongs among those natural gifts which a bad person may use badly. We must also have a good will, which belongs among those gifts which it is impossible to use badly. This impossibility is given to us by God; otherwise I do not know how to defend what Scripture says: ‘What do you have that you did not receive?’ (1 Cor.4:7) For if God gives us a free will, which may still be either good or bad, but a good will comes from ourselves, then what comes from ourselves is better than what comes from God! But it is the height of absurdity to say this. So the Pelagians ought to acknowledge that we obtain from God even a good will.
It would indeed be a strange thing if the will could stand in some no-man’s-land, where it was neither good nor bad. For we either love righteousness, and this is good; and if we love it more, this is better. If we love it less, this is less good; or if we do not love righteousness at all, it is not good. And who can hesitate to affirm that, when the will does not love righteousness in any way at all, it is not only a bad will, but even a totally depraved will? Since therefore the will is either good or bad, and since of course we do not derive the bad will from God, it remains that we derive from God a good will. Otherwise, since our justification proceeds from a good will, I do not know what other gift of God we ought to rejoice in. That, I suppose, is why it is written, ‘The will is prepared by the Lord’ (Prov.8:35, Septuagint). And in the Psalms, ‘The steps of a man will be rightly ordered by the Lord, and His way will be the choice of his will’ (Ps.37:23). And what the apostle says, ‘For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His own good pleasure’ (Phil.2:13).
On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, 2:30
What we need is love
We maintain that God does not only create a person with a free will, and give teaching by which he is instructed how he ought to live. We say further that the human will is so divinely aided in the pursuit of righteousness, that a person receives the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit forms in his mind a delight in, and a love of, that supreme and unchangeable good which is God, even now while he is still ‘walking by faith’ and not yet ‘by sight’ (2 Cor.5:7). By this gift to him of the Spirit as the pledge, as it were, of the free gift [of eternal life], he conceives an ardent desire to cling to his Creator, and burns to enter into a state of participation in that true light, so that he may enjoy blessing from the One to Whom he owes his existence. A person’s free will, indeed, avails for nothing except to sin, if he does not know the way of truth. And even after his duty and his true goal begin to become known to him, he still fails to do his duty, or to set about it, or to live rightly, unless he also takes delight in it and feels a love for it. Now, in order to win our affections to what is right, God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts,’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Spirit Who is given to us’ (Rom.5:5).
On the Spirit and the Letter, 5
God’s grace works in us sovereignly to produce a godly will
Some might interpret ‘It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God Who shows mercy’ (Rom.9:16), in this sense — that salvation comes from both, that is, both from the human will and from the mercy of God. In that case, we must understand the saying, ‘It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God Who shows mercy,’ as if it meant that the human will alone is not sufficient, unless the mercy of God goes with it. But then it would follow that the mercy of God alone is not sufficient, unless the human will goes with it! Therefore, if we may rightly say, ‘it is not of man who wills, but of God Who shows mercy,’ because the human will by itself is not enough, why may we not also rightly put it the other way round: ‘It is not of God Who shows mercy, but of man who wills,’ because the mercy of God by itself is not sufficient? Surely, no Christian will dare to say this, ‘It is not of God Who shows mercy, but of man who wills,’ in case he openly contradicts the apostle!
So it follows that the true interpretation of the saying, ‘It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God Who shows mercy,’ is that the entire work belongs to God, Who both makes the human will righteous, and prepares it in this way for His assistance, and then assists it when it is prepared. For human righteousness of will precedes many of God’s gifts, but not all of them; and it must itself be included among those gifts which it does not precede. We read in Holy Scripture, both that God’s mercy ‘shall meet me’ (Ps.59:10), and that His mercy ‘shall follow me’ (Ps.23:6). Mercy goes before the unwilling person to make him willing; it follows the willing person to make his will effective. Why are we taught to pray for our enemies, who are plainly unwilling to lead a holy life, unless that God may produce willingness in them? And why are we ourselves taught to ask in order that may receive, unless that He who has created in us the wish, may Himself satisfy the wish? We pray, then, for our enemies, that the mercy of God may go before them, as it has gone before us; and we pray for ourselves that His mercy may follow us.
Grace creates a truly free will
Do we by grace destroy free will? God forbid! We establish free will. For even as the law is not destroyed but established by faith, so free will is not destroyed but established by grace. The law is fulfilled only by a free will. And yet the law brings the knowledge of sin; faith brings the acquisition of grace against sin; grace brings the healing of the soul from the disease of sin; the health of the soul brings freedom of will; free will brings the love of righteousness; and the love of righteousness fulfils the law. Thus the law is not destroyed but established through faith, since faith obtains grace by which the law is fulfilled. Likewise, free will is not destroyed through grace, but is established, since grace cures the will so that righteousness is freely loved. Now all the stages which I have here connected together in their successive links, are each spoken of individually in the sacred Scriptures. The law says: ‘You shall not covet’ (Ex.20:17). Faith says: ‘Heal my soul, for I have sinned against You’ (Ps.41:4). Grace says: ‘See, you have been made well: sin no more, in case a worse thing comes upon you’ (Jn.5:14). Health says: ‘O Lord my God, I cried to You, and You have healed me’ (Ps.30:2). Free will says: ‘I will freely sacrifice to You’ (Ps.54:6). Love of righteousness says: ‘Transgressors told me pleasant tales, but not according to Your law, O Lord’ (Ps. 119:85).
How is it then that miserable human beings dare to be proud, either of their free will, before they are set free, or of their own strength, if they have been set free? They do not observe that in the very mention of free will they pronounce the name of liberty. But ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty’ (2 Cor.3:17). If, therefore, they are the slaves of sin, why do they boast of free will? For ‘by whatever a person is overcome, to that he is delivered as a slave’ (2 Pet.2:19). But if they have been set free, why do they puff themselves up as if it were by their own doing? Why do they boast, as if their freedom were not a gift? Or are they so free that they will not have Him for their Lord Who says to them, ‘Without Me, you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5), and, ‘If the Son sets you free, you shall be truly free?’ (Jn.8:36).
On the Spirit and the Letter, 52
Sovereign grace humbles human pride
God does not grant His mercy to some people because they know Him, but in order that they may know Him. Nor is it because they are upright in heart, but that they may become so, that He grants them His righteousness by which He justifies the ungodly. This thought does not inflate us with pride! The sin of pride arises when anyone has too much self-confidence, and makes himself the supreme reason reason for living. Driven by this conceited feeling, the proud person departs from the Fountain of life, from Whose streams alone we can drink the holiness which is itself the good life. Yes, the proud person departs from that unchanging Light, by sharing in which the rational
soul set on fire (so to speak) and becomes a created and reflected light.
On the Spirit and the Letter, 11
Spiritual desire comes from God
God does many good things in a human being that the human being does not do. But a human being does nothing good that God does not cause him to do. Accordingly, the Lord would not put a desire for something good in a person, if that thing were not indeed good; but if it is good, we derive it only from Him Who is supremely and incomparably good. For what is the desire for good but love? John the apostle speaks of this without any ambiguity, and says, ‘Love is from God’ (1 Jn.4:7). Love does not begin from ourselves, and then get perfected by God. No, if love is from God, we have the whole of it from God. May God by all means turn us away from this folly of making ourselves first and Himself last in our reception of His gifts!
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:21
Love comes from God
It is no wonder that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it. In John’s letter, the Light declares, ‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God’ (1 Jn.3:1). And in the Pelagian writings the darkness says, ‘Love comes to us from our own selves.’ Now, if the Pelagians only possessed true love, that is, Christian love, they would also know where they obtained possession of it. The apostle knew this when he said, ‘But we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit Who is from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God’ (1 Cor.2:12). And John says, ‘God is love’ (1 Jn.4:16). So the Pelagians are saying that they actually have God Himself, not from God, but from their own selves! They admit that we have the knowledge of the law from God, but they insist that love is from our own selves. They are not listening to the apostle when he says, ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (1 Cor.8:21). Now what can be more absurd, what can be more insane and more alien to the very sacredness of love itself, than to maintain that God merely gives us the knowledge which (apart from love) puffs us up, while the love that prevents the possibility of this inflated knowledge springs from ourselves?!
On Grace and Free Will, 40
The difference between knowledge and love
Now even Pelagius should frankly confess that this grace is plainly set forth in the inspired Scriptures. He should not, with shameless insolence, hide the fact that he has too long opposed it. Let him admit it with healthy regret, so that the holy Church may cease to be troubled by his stubborn persistence, and rejoice instead in his sincere conversion. Let him distinguish between knowledge and love, as they ought to be distinguished. For ‘knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (1 Cor.8:1). Knowledge no longer puffs up when love builds up. And since each is the gift of God (although one is less, and the other greater), Pelagius must not extol our righteousness above the praise which is due to God Who justifies us. Yet this is what he does, when he says that the lesser of these two gifts (knowledge) is assisted by divine grace, and claims that the greater gift (love) comes from the human will.
But if Pelagius agrees that we receive love from the grace of God, he must not think that any virtues of our own preceded our reception of the gift. For what virtues could we possibly have had, at the time when we did not love God? Indeed, so that we might receive the love that enables us to love, God loved us while as yet we had no love ourselves. This the apostle John most expressly declares: ‘Not that we loved God,’ says he, ‘but that He loved us’ (1 Jn.4:10). And again, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’ (1 Jn.4:19). Most excellently and truly spoken! For we could not have any power to love Him, unless we received it from Him in His first loving us. And what good could we possibly do if we possessed no love? But how could we help doing good if we have love? God’s command may appear sometimes to be kept by those who do not love Him, but only fear Him; but where there is no love, God does not reckon any work as good, nor is there any ‘good work’ rightly so called. For ‘whatever is not from faith is sin’ (Rom.14:23) and ‘faith works by love’ (Gal.5:6).
On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin, 1:27
When we do good, God’s will inspires ours
It is certain that we keep the commandments if we will. But because ‘the will is prepared by the Lord’ (Prov.8:35, Septuagint), we must ask Him for such a force of will that is sufficient to make us act by willing. Again, it is certain that when we will, we are the ones who do the willing. But it is God Who causes us to will what is good, of whom it is said (as he has just now expressed it), ‘The will is prepared by the Lord.’ Of the same Lord it is said, ‘The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and He wills his way’ (Ps.37:23). Of the same Lord it is also said, ‘It is God who works in you, even to will!’ (Phil.2:13) Again, it is certain that when we act, we are the ones who act. But it is God who causes us to act, by applying efficacious powers to our will. As He has said, ‘I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them’ (Ezek.36:27). When he says, ‘I will make you ... to do them,’ what else does He say in fact than, ‘I will take away from you your heart of stone,’ from which used to arise your inability to act, ‘and I will give you a heart of flesh,’ in order that you may act (Ezek.36:26)? And what does this promise amount to but this: I will remove your hard heart, out of which you did not act, and I will give you an obedient heart, out of which you shall act?
On Grace and Free Will, 32
Called according to God’s purpose, not ours
Why do the Pelagians say they believe that ‘grace assists the good resolution of everyone, but it does not instil the desire for virtue into a reluctant heart’? They say this as if a person from his own resources, without God’s assistance, has a good resolution and a desire for virtue; and this preceding virtue is worthy of being assisted by the subsequent grace of God. For they think, perhaps, that when the apostle said, ‘For we know that He works all things for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose’ (Rom.8:28) — they think perhaps that Paul meant human purpose, so that this purpose, as a worthy quality, would secure the mercy of the God Who calls.
If that’s what they think, they are ignorant of Paul’s real meaning: ‘Who are called according to purpose,’ that is, not human purpose, but the purpose of God, by which before the world’s creation He elected those whom He foreknew and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom.8:29). For not all the called are ‘called according to purpose’, since ‘many are called, few are chosen’ (Matt.22:14). But those who are called according to purpose are the persons who were elected before the creation of the world. Of this purpose of God, it was also said (as I have already mentioned concerning the twins Esau and Jacob), ‘that the purpose of God might stand according to election, not by works, but by Him Who calls, it was said, that the elder shall serve the younger’ (Rom.9:11-12). This purpose of God is also mentioned in that place where, writing to Timothy, he says, ‘Labour with the gospel according to the power of God, Who saves us and calls us with this holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before eternal ages, but is now made manifest by the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Tim.1:8-10).
This, then, is the purpose of God, of which it is said, ‘He works together all things for good for those who are called according to purpose.’ Subsequent grace indeed assists a human good purpose, but the good purpose would not itself exist if grace did not work first.
Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 2:22
Grace in operation and co-operation
‘Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom.13:10). This love the apostle Peter did not yet possess, when he denied the Lord three times out of fear. ‘There is no fear in love,’ says the gospel writer John in his first letter, ‘but perfect love casts out fear’ (1 Jn.4:18). But still, however small and imperfect Peter’s love was, it was not entirely lacking when he said to the Lord, ‘I will lay down my life for Your sake’ (Jn.13:37). For he supposed he was able to carry out what he felt himself willing to do. And who was it that had begun to give Peter his love, however small? Who but God Who prepares the will, and perfects by His co-operation what He begins by His operation? For in beginning to work, He works in us to give us the will, and in perfecting this work, He works with us when we have the will. This is why the apostle says, ‘I am confident of this very thing, that He Who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Phil.1:6). He operates, therefore, without our help, in order that we may will; but when we will, and will so as to act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to carry out good works of godliness, without God either working to give us the will, or co-working with us when we will.
On Grace and Free Will, 33
Give what You command, and command what You will
When we commit sin, we get no help from God; but we are not able to act justly, and to fulfil the law of righteousness in every part, unless we are helped by God. Light does not help our physical eyes to shut out light; rather, light helps our eyes to see, and the eye cannot see at all unless light helps it. Likewise God, Who is the light of the inner self, helps our mental sight, in order that we may do some good, not according to our own righteousness, but according to His. But if we turn away from God , it is our own act; then we are wise according to the flesh, then we consent to the lust of the flesh for unlawful deeds. When we turn to God, therefore, He helps us; when we turn away from Him, He forsakes us. But God even helps us to turn to Him; and this, certainly, is something that light does not do for the eyes of the body.
When, therefore, He commands us in the words, ‘Turn to Me, and I will turn to you’ (Zech.1:3), and we say to Him, ‘Turn us, O God of our salvation’ (Ps.85:4), and again, ‘Turn us, O God of hosts’ (Ps.80:3) — what else do we say but, ‘Give what You command’? When He commands us, saying, ‘Understand now, O simple among the people’ (Ps.94:8), and we say to Him, ‘Give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments’ (Ps.119:73) — what else do we say but, ‘Give what You command’? When He commands us, saying, ‘Do not go after your lusts’ (Ecclesiasticus 18:30), and we say to Him, ‘We know that no-one can be chaste, unless God gives it to him’ (Wisdom 8:21) — what else do we say but, ‘Give what You command’? When He commands us, saying, ‘Do justice’ (Isa.56:1), and we say, ‘Teach me Your judgments, O Lord’ (Ps.119:108) — what else do we say but, ‘Give what You command’? Likewise, when He says: ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled’ (Matt.5:6), from whom should we seek the meat and drink of righteousness, but from Him Who promises His fullness to those who hunger and thirst after it?
On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, 2:5
Is faith itself the gift of God?
We must still try to answer briefly this question: Is the will by which we believe itself the gift of God, or does it arise from that free will which is naturally implanted in us? If we say that faith is not the gift of God, we must then fear that we have discovered some answer to the apostle’s reproachful appeal: ‘What do you have that you did not receive? Now, if you received it, why do you boast, as if you had not received it ?’ (1 Cor.4:7) If the will to believe is not God’s gift, we could reply: ‘See, we have the will to believe, which we did not receive. See what we boast about — even something we did not receive!’ If, however, we were to say that this kind of will is entirely the gift of God, we would then have to fear that unbelieving and ungodly people might unreasonably seem to have a fair excuse for their unbelief, in the fact that God had refused to give them the will to believe.
On the Spirit and the Letter, 57
Faith itself is God’s gift
Paul’s last statement here is, ‘I have kept the faith’ (2 Tim.4:7). But the man who says this is the same man who declares in another passage, ‘I have obtained mercy that I might be faithful’ (1 Cor.7:25). He does not say, ‘I obtained mercy because I was faithful,’ but ‘in order that I might be faithful.’ This shows that even faith itself cannot be had without God’s mercy, and that it is the gift of God. Paul very expressly teaches us this when he says, ‘For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God’ (Eph.2:8). The Pelagians might possibly say, ‘We received grace because we believed.’ as if they would attribute the faith to themselves, and the grace to God. Therefore the apostle, having said, ‘You are saved through faith,’ added, ‘And that not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God.’ And again, in case they say they deserved so great a gift by their works, he immediately
added, ‘Not of works, in case anyone should boast.’ Not that Paul denied good works, or emptied them of their value, for he says that God renders to everyone according to his works (Rom.2:6); but works proceed from faith, not faith from works. Therefore it is from God that we have works of righteousness, as it is from Him that faith, concerning which it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Rom.1:17).
On Grace and Free Will, 17
Faith is part of our re-creation in Christ
And in case people should arrogate to themselves the merit at least of their own faith, not understanding that this too is the gift of God, this same apostle, who says in another place that he had ‘obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful’ (1 Cor.7:25), here also adds: ‘and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, in case anyone should boast’ (Eph.2:8). And in case it should be thought that good works will be lacking in those who believe, he adds further: ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them’ (Eph.2:10). We shall be made truly free, then, when God fashions us, that is, forms and creates us anew, not as human beings — for He has done that already — but as good people. His grace is now doing this, so that we may be a new creation in Christ Jesus, according as it is said: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’ (Ps.51:10). For God had already created David’s heart, so far as the physical structure of the human heart is concerned; but the psalmist prays for the renewal of the life which was still lingering in his heart.
If faith is not God’s gift, salvation is no longer by grace
It follows, therefore, that without any virtue of our own, we receive the gift of faith, from which the rest of salvation flows — although according to the Pelagians, we obtain salvation because of our virtue. If, however, they insist on denying that faith is freely given to us, what is the meaning of the apostle’s words: ‘According as God has dealt to everyone a measure of faith’ (Rom.12:3)? And if they argue that faith is bestowed as a reward for virtue, not as a free gift, what then becomes of another saying of the apostle: ‘To you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Phil.1:29)? The apostle’s testimony makes each of these a gift — both that a person believes in Christ, and that he suffers for Christ’s sake. These Pelagians, however, attribute faith to free will, in such a way as to make it seem that grace is given to faith not as a gratuitous gift, but as a debt. Thus grace ceases to be grace any longer. How can something be grace if it is not gratuitous?
On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin, 1:34
Giving thanks to God for faith proves that faith is His doing
The apostle gives thanks to God for those who have believed — not, clearly, because the gospel has been declared to them, but because they have believed. For he says, ‘in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation — in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is a pledge of our inheritance, for the redemption of God’s own possession, for the
praise of his glory. For this cause I also, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus and with reference to all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you’ (Ephesians 1:13-16). Their faith was new and recent, following on the preaching of the gospel to them. When the apostle hears of this faith of theirs, he gives thanks to God for them. If he were to give thanks to someone for what he might think or know that person had not given, it would be called a flattery or a mockery, rather than a giving of thanks. ‘Do not be deceived, for God is not mocked’ (Gal.6:7); for the beginning of faith is also His gift, unless we rightly judge the apostolic giving of thanks to be either mistaken or fallacious! What then? Does that not stand forth as the beginning of the faith of the Thessalonians, for which the same apostle gives thanks to God when he says, ‘Forthis reason also we thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually works in you, and which you believed’ (1 Thess.2:13)? What does Paul gives thanks to God for here? Surely it is a vain and idle thing if He to whom Paul gives thanks did not Himself do the thing! But, since this is not a vain and idle thing, certainly God, to whom Paul gave thanks for this work, Himself did it, so that when they had received the word of God which they heard, they received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God. God, therefore, works in human hearts with that ‘calling according to His purpose’ (Rom.8:28), of which we have spoken a great deal, in order that people should not hear the gospel in vain, but when they hear it, should be converted and believe, receiving it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.
On the Predestination of the Saints, 39
The example of Lydia
For what is the meaning of, ‘praying also for us that God would open to us a door of the word’ (Col.4:3), unless it is a most manifest demonstration that even the very beginning of faith is the gift of God? For faith would not be sought from God in prayer, unless it were believed to be given by Him. This gift of heavenly grace had descended to that seller of purple for whom, as Scripture says in the Acts of the Apostles, ‘The Lord opened her heart, and she gave heed to the things spoken by Paul’ (Acts 16:14). For she was called so that she might believe. For God does what He wills in human hearts, either by His assistance or by His judgment, so that through
their means may be fulfilled what His hand and counsel have predestined to be done.
On the Predestination of the Saints, 41
Why pray that God will give faith to unbelievers, if faith is not a gracious gift?
If God does not make people willing who were not willing, on what principle does the Church pray, according to the Lord’s commandment, for her persecutors?…. For what do we pray for on behalf of those who are unwilling to believe, except that God would work in them to make them willing? Certainly the apostle says, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation’ (Rom.10:1). He prays for those who do not believe — for what, except that they may believe? For they will obtain salvation in no other way. If, then, the faith of those praying precedes the grace of God [in converting unbelievers], what about the faith of those for whom prayer is offered that they may come to faith? Does their faith precede the grace of God? How can it, since this is the very thing that we seek for them, that on those who do not believe— that is, who have no faith — faith itself may be bestowed?
On the Predestination of the Saints, 15
The same theme pursued
Now if faith comes simply from free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for unbelievers that they may believe? This it would be absolutely useless, unless we believe (quite correctly) that almighty God is able to take wills that are perverse and opposed to faith, and turn them to faith. Human free will is addressed when it is said, ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Ps.95:7-8). But if God were not able to remove from the human heart even its obstinacy and hardness, He would not say, through the prophet, ‘I will take from them their heart of stone, and will give them a heart of flesh’ (Ezek.11:19). All this was foretold in reference to the New Testament, as is shown clearly enough by the apostle when he says, ‘You are our epistle, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart’ (2 Cor.3:2-3).
We must not, of course, suppose that this phrase is used as if those who ought to live spiritually might live in a fleshly way. But a stone, with which the hard human heart is compared, has no feeling. What was there left for God to compare the wise human heart with, but the flesh which possesses feeling? For this is what is said by the prophet Ezekiel: ‘I will give them another heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh, so that they may walk in My statutes, and keep My ordinances, and do them: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, says the Lord’ (Ezek.11:19-29). Can we possibly, without utter absurdity, maintain that there first existed in anyone the good virtue of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his heart of stone? How can we say this, when all the time this heart of stone itself signifies precisely a will of the hardest kind, a will that is absolutely inflexible against God? For if a good will comes first, there is obviously no longer a heart of stone.
On Grace and Free Will, 29
Repentance is the gift of God
The mercy of God is necessary not only when a person repents, but even to lead him to repent. How else can we explain what the apostle says of certain people: ‘if perhaps God may give them repentance’ (2 Tim.2:25)? And before Peter wept bitterly, we are told by the gospel-writer, ‘The Lord turned, and looked upon him’ (Lk.22:61).
Grace is the death of pride
Beware, O Christian, beware of pride. Even though you are a disciple of the saints, ascribe it always and wholly to grace. It was not brought about by what you deserve, but by the grace of God, that there is any ‘remnant’ in you. For the prophet Isaiah, having this remnant in view, had already said, ‘Unless the Lord of Hosts had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and would have been like Gomorrah’ (Isa.1:9, Rom.9:29). ‘So then,’ says the apostle, ‘at this present time also a remnant is saved through the election of grace. But if it is by grace,’ he says, ‘then it is no longer by works’ (that is, ‘do not be puffed up any longer on what you deserve’); ‘otherwise grace is no longer grace’ (Rom.11:5-6). For if you build on your own work; then a reward is rendered to you, rather than grace freely bestowed. But if it is grace, it is gratuitously given.
I ask you, then, O sinner, ‘Do you believe in Christ?’ You say, ‘I do believe.’ ‘What do you believe? Do you believe that all your sins can be forgiven freely through Him?’ Then you have what you have believed. O grace gratuitously given! And you, righteous soul, what do you believe? Do you believe that you cannot keep your righteousness without God? If you are righteous, then, impute it wholly to His mercy; but if you are a sinner, ascribe it to your own iniquity. Be your own accuser, and He will be your gracious Deliverer. For every crime, wickedness, or sin comes from our own negligence, but all virtue and holiness come from God’s gracious goodness.
Sermons on the Gospels, 50:4
When God crowns our virtues, grace is crowning its own gifts
The Pelagians say that the only grace that is not given according to our virtues is the grace by which a person’s sins are forgiven, but that the final grace of eternal life is given as a reward to our preceding virtues. They must not be allowed to go without an answer. If, indeed, they understand and acknowledge our virtues to be the gifts of God too, then their opinion would not deserve condemnation. But since they preach human virtues by declaring that a person has them from his own self, then most rightly the apostle replies: ‘Who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now, if thou received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?’ (1 Cor.4:7) To a person who holds such views, it is perfect truth to say: It is His own gifts that God crowns, not your virtues. If your virtues come from your own self, not from God, then they are evil, and God does not crown them. But if they are good, they are God’s gifts, because, as the Apostle James says, ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights’ (Jam.1:17). In accordance with this John the Lord’s forerunner also declares: ‘A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from heaven’ (Jn.3:27) — from heaven, of course, because from there came also the Holy Spirit, when Jesus ascended up on high, led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. If, then, your good virtues are God’s gifts, God does not crown them as your virtues, but as His own gifts.
On Grace and Free Will, 15
The same theme pursued
Finally, after the redemption from all corruption, what remains but the crown of righteousness? This at least remains, but even here, under the crown, do not let your head be swollen, in case it fails to receive the crown! Listen, mark well the psalm, how that crown will not rest on a swollen head. After the psalmist had said, ‘Who redeems your life from corruption,’ he says, ‘Who crowns you’ (Ps.103:4). Here you were ready at once to say, ‘The phrase “Crowns you” is an acknowledgment of my virtues; my own excellence has done it; it is the payment of a debt, not a gift.’ Listen rather to the psalm. For it is you again that say this; and ‘all men are liars’ (Ps.116:11)!
Hear what God says: ‘Who crowns you with mercy and pity’ (Ps.103:4). From His mercy He crowns you, from His pity He crowns you. For you had no worthiness that He should call you to Himself; or being called, no worthiness that He should justify you; or being justified, no worthiness that He should glorify you. ‘The remnant is saved by the election of grace. But if it is by grace, then it is no longer by works; otherwise grace is no more grace’ (Rom.11:5-6). ‘For to him who works, the reward shall not be reckoned according to grace, but according to debt’ (Rom.4:4). The apostle says, ‘Not according to grace, but according to debt.’ But ‘He crowns you with pity and mercy.’ If your own virtues have gone before, God says to you, ‘Examine well your virtues, and you shall see that they are My gifts.’
This then is ‘the righteousness of God’ (Rom.1:17). It is like the phrase, ‘the Lord’s salvation’ (Ex.14:13) — not that by which the Lord is saved, but which He gives to those whom He saves. So too the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord is called ‘the righteousness of God’ — not that by which the Lord is righteous, but by which He justifies those ungodly people whom He makes righteous.
Sermons on the Gospels, 81:8-9
Dr. N.R. Needham
This is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Dr. Needham's book The Triumph of Grace: Augustine's Writings on Salvation: Dr. Needham has done a great service to the Church in bringing together Augustine's quotes on topics related to regeneration/salvation. These are must-have quotes in any discussion showing Augustine's soteriology to be monergistic (the work of God alone), not synergistic (a cooperation between man and God). They show the dividing line between the biblical conception of grace and a humanistically-tainted conception of grace. It is the watershed between sola gratia and gratia + human merit. In each chapter Needham has chosen a theme relating to salvation (such as Creation, Fall and Original Sin, Free Will, Law and Grace, the Incarnation and the Atonement & Predestination and election) and has extracted a great number of St. Augustine's excellent quotations related to that topic. Dr. Needham has given us his generous permission to post chapter five entitled "The New Life in Christ" in which he gives a short introductory essay on the new birth followed by a great number of helpful quotes from Augustine regarding this issue. Please take time to read this. It is extremely helpful and useful in promoting clarity in the Church on the historic Christian position regarding the grace of God in salvation