Aurelius Augustinus (354 - 430), Bishop of Hippo Regius in Roman North Africa, was undoubtedly the greatest of the Latin Fathers. He is called a Latin Father partly because he spoke and wrote in Latin, and partly to distinguish him from the Greek Fathers who wrote in Greek. Many of the latter were influential chiefly in the Eastern half of the Christian world which later became the Greek Orthodox Church, whose religious capital was Constantinople. Augustine's influence was chiefly in the Western world.
Augustine was born of middle-class parents at Tagaste in North Africa, but he seems to have been financially assisted as a young man when he had perhaps proved himself to be what today would be called "scholarship material." His father, Patricius, remained for most of his life a pagan, but was converted shortly before his death in 372 when Augustine was just eighteen years of age.
In so far as the specific subject matter of this volume is concerned, Augustine's enormous literary output is of less immediate interest than his autobiography in which he detailed the circumstances that finally led to his conversion. It is in this autobiography, his Confessions, that we see the background of the long struggle he had with his own unruly nature, and how he became increasingly aware of both the fundamental depravity of the human heart and the futility of appealing to the unsaved to turn themselves towards the Savior.
Augustine begins his Confessions with the famous and often quoted (or misquoted) words, "Thou hast formed us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee" (I.i.l). He then proceeds to give the reader some idea of his life before he became a Christian. He began very early to be a troublemaker, perhaps when he was only eight or nine years old, and his experience thereafter was what Hogarth would have painted under the title The Progress of a Rake. He was not converted until 386 A.D. at the age of thirty-two.
So he continues:
I will now call to mind my past foulness and the carnal corruptions of my soul, not because I love them but that I may love Thee, O my God. For love of thy love I do it, recalling in the very bitterness of my remembrance my most vicious ways that Thou mayest grow sweet to me--Thou sweetness without deception! And recollecting myself out of that my dissipation in which I was torn to pieces, while, being turned away from Thee, I lost myself among many vanities. For I even longed in my youth formerly to be satisfied with worldly things, and I dared to grow wild again with various and shadowy loves; my form consumed away and I became corrupt in Thine eyes, pleasing myself and eager to be pleasing in the eyes of men. (II.i.l)So even as a child he sought the thrills of crime on a petty scale of theft for the fun of it, making mischief for people simply for the pleasure of seeing their distress. He describes it thus:
I had a desire to commit robbery and did so, compelled neither by hunger nor poverty but through a dislike of doing the right things, and a certain lustiness of iniquity. For I pilfered that of which I had already sufficient, and much better. Nor did I desire to enjoy what I pilfered but only the theft and the misdeed itself. (II.iv.9)Inevitably he tired of these adolescent delinquencies, having now reached the age at which the opposite sex became an object of interest. And so he went to Carthage, perhaps the most wanton city of the time "where a cauldron of unholy loves bubbled up all around me" (III.i.1). Into this cauldron he plunged with energetic abandon, and he recounts the steady degeneration of his soul which took place: "Woe, woe, by what steps was I dragged down to the depths of hell" (III.vii.11).
Meanwhile his mother, Monica, a most devout and godly Christian woman, watched his slow degradation with agonizing concern. Augustine was now in his early twenties and was quite aware of his mother's distress. "My mother, thy faithful one, wept to Thee on my behalf more than mothers are wont to bewail the physical deaths of their children" (III.xi.19).
Augustine's "progress" is remarkably typical of many modern young people who have a similar measure of economic independence. It seems clear that as a young adolescent he became involved with a gang of potential troublemakers who sought escape from the boredom of life by being destructive just for the fun of it. But in due time this palled, and as he grew into manhood he sought more sophisticated forms of escape. And so he went to Carthage, "the big city." But this, too, in time began to sicken him so that like many in similar circumstances today he turned hopefully to philosophy and in a sense "attached" himself to the founder of Manichaeism, the equivalent of the modern guru. He describes this change in lifestyle. "During the space of nine years, then, from my nineteenth to my twenty-eighth year we went on seduced and seducing, deceived and deceiving, in divers lusts; outwardly practicing a lifestyle which they call 'liberal'" (IV.i.1). In disgust at the emptiness of this life, therefore, he turned to a pagan philosophy which saw the universe as being divided into two eternal kingdoms, the kingdom of good and the kingdom of evil, neither of which could ever wholly conquer the other. Man might seek by the proper exercise of will to live increasingly in the one or the other but the strife was unending and there was no guarantee of complete victory either here or hereafter.
And so Augustine struggled on, gradually establishing a reputation as a teacher of rhetoric, while at the same time becoming increasingly disillusioned with Manichaeism. He found no peace, no meaning, no sense of purpose: only a growing sense of disease of spirit and dissatisfaction of mind. He was disturbed also by his own inability to temper his unruly will. To be good attracted him, but he could not find within himself the resources to achieve goodness. And so he went to Rome because he learned that students there lived under more restrictive influences bringing some measure of control to their disordered lives. He recounts the circumstances of this decision as evidence, when seen in retrospect, of the overruling providence of God in his life.
It was not my desire to go to Rome because greater advantages and honors were guaranteed me by the friends who persuaded me to do this but my principal and almost my sole motive was that I had been informed that youths there studied more quietly and were kept under the control of more rigid discipline (V.viii.14).This remark is a reflection of a struggle which seems to have gone on in his life for many years. The unruliness of his will, indeed the unruliness of every man's unredeemed will, was to be a key point of emphasis in his subsequent theology and profoundly influenced Luther's thinking a thousand years later. In spite of the fact that his personal problem appeared to him at the time to be the basic reason for his deciding to cross the Mediterranean to Rome, he later saw this as just one more instance of divine supervision in his life (V.viii.15).
Evidently his stay in Rome did not fulfill his expectations for he was soon attracted to Milan, accepting an invitation from that city to teach rhetoric. He notes that his traveling expenses were paid by the city fathers (V.xiii.23). Here he discovered the saintly Ambrose, Bishop of Milan; and to his mother's enormous relief, this godly minister came to have a tremendous influence on his life. With refreshing frankness he tells why he was first attracted to Ambrose. It was the Bishop's eloquence! And here we have a beautiful example of how the talents of a godly man, for surely eloquence is a talent, can be used in God's service in ways that are unexpected. In words which are equally as eloquent as the Bishop's, Augustine describes what gradually happened.
For although I took no trouble to learn what he spake but only to hear how he spake (for that vain concern alone remained to me, despairing of finding any way for man to approach Thee), yet along with the words which I prized there came into my mind also the things about which I was careless; for I could not separate them. And whilst I opened my heart to admit "how skillfully he spake," there also entered with it, but gradually, "how truly he spake"! (V.xiv.24).The process was slow at first. As Augustine wrote:
I resolved therefore to become a catechumen in the catholic church, which my parents had commended to me, until something more positive should manifest itself to me whither I might steer my course...After that, O Lord, little by little Thou didst persuade me, drawing and calming my heart with a most gentle and merciful hand (Vl.v.7).
And I, puzzling over and reviewing these things, marveled most at the length of time that had lapsed from my nineteenth year when I began to be inflamed with the desire for wisdom, resolving when I found her to forsake all the empty hopes and deceiving insanities of vain desire. Behold I was now getting on to my thirtieth year, still stuck in the same mire and eager for the enjoyment of things present which fly away and destroy me (Vl.xi.18).But Augustine was aware of the continuing pursuit of Him whom Francis Thompson so aptly named the "Hound of Heaven." This conviction strangely strengthened as the misery in his own soul deepened. In his growing despair he found himself nevertheless unexpectedly filled with praise for God!
Unto Thee be praise, unto Thee be glory. O Thou fountain of mercy! While I became more wretched, Thou became more near. Thy right hand was ever ready to pluck me out of the mire and to cleanse me: yet I was ignorant of it (Vl.xvi.26).Here then we find a clear recognition of where the real problem of human wickedness lies. Pelagius (c. 390 A.D.) had taken the view that the wickedness of man was really something foreign to his nature, taught him through example and precept by his own corrupt society. The right appeal to his best nature would bring improvement and under the proper circumstances man had the power to correct his faults and achieve his own salvation.
By inward stings didst Thou disturb me that I should be dissatisfied, until Thou wert made sure to my inward sight. And by the secret hand of thy remedy was my swelling lessened, and the disordered and darkened eyesight of my mind was made whole from day to day by the sharp anointing of healthful sorrows (Vll.viii.12).
And I enquired what iniquity really was. And I discovered it not to be a substance [as Manichaean philosophy had viewed it] but a perversion of the will bent aside from Thee, O God....And I marveled that I now loved Thee and not just a fantasy instead of Thee. (emphasis mine: Vl.xv.22. 23).
In due course, Augustine, out of the depths of his own experience, was to become such an opponent of this hopeful humanism that Pelagius' teaching would subsequently be condemned by the Church of Rome. Salvation by self-effort was declared to be an impossibility for fallen man. Because of his own experience in Italy, Augustine very early came to the conclusion that the Church of Rome was the sole instrument or vehicle of the grace of God in bringing salvation to the individual. There was no salvation outside of its orthodoxy. Augustine, in fact, by the cogency of his arguments, the eloquence of his writing and speaking, and the profundity of his own personal experience while searching for the truth, had a tremendous influence upon the Church of Rome's theology in this respect; and by many Protestant scholars he is considered to have been the founder of Roman Catholicism in its basic expression.
In the end, Augustine's main emphasis came to be not on the exclusive character of the Church of Rome as a vehicle of God's grace but on the total incapacity of man to turn himself about and contribute in any way to the effecting of his own salvation. As he wrote later:
And I sought a way of acquiring strength sufficient to enjoy Thee; but I found it not until I embraced that "mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus," "who is over all, God blessed forever," calling unto me and saying, "I am the way, the truth and the life" (VII.xviii.24).And so Augustine came home at last to his God. And his heart was overwhelmed by love.
O my God, let me with gratitude remember and confess unto Thee thy mercies bestowed upon me. Let my bones be steeped in thy love and let them say, Who is like unto Thee, O Lord! "Thou hast loosed my bonds; I will offer unto Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving." And how Thou hast loosed them will I declare; and all who worship Thee when they hear these things shall say: "Blessed be the Lord in heaven and in earth, great and wonderful is his name" (VIII.1.1).Yet the struggle with his unruly will continued, as it did for Paul (Rom. 7), and as it does in all of us. Witness how he cried out in some surprise:
Whence is this monstrous thing? And why is it? The mind commands the body and it obeys forthwith; the mind commands itself and is resisted. The mind commands the hand to be moved, and such readiness is there that the command is scarce to be distinguished from the obedience...The mind commands the mind to command the will, and yet though it be itself, it obeyeth not. Whence this monstrous thing? It commands itself to will and would not give the command unless it willed, yet is not done that which it commandeth. But it willeth not entirely; therefore it commandeth not entirely (VIII.ix.21).Augustine's protest is eloquent, and his analogy is striking. He was perhaps the first after Paul to realize the Total Depravity of man.
Man unredeemed is spiritually incapable of truly willing the smallest step towards God unless he is enabled to do so through the office of the Holy Spirit. We may suppose that men do seek the Lord on their own initiative because we see them apparently doing it. We may suppose we ourselves did it because we were aware of a desire within ourselves. The very act of willing leads us to believe that we are willing of our own accord. We do not stop to ask, Why did I will to seek the Lord? Why did I, but not my neighbor, will to seek the Lord? Was it something in myself which distinguished me from my neighbor, and indeed from the multitude around me? And here is the crux of the matter, for if it was I who initiated this movement in my soul, then could I not be said to be a better man than my neighbor? Would I not be indeed in a position to boast, both here and hereafter?
But there is no reason to suppose that there are levels of spiritual deadness. We are all dead in trespasses and sins, and death is the great leveler. In this unregenerate state we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. A corpse does not cry out for help. "The dead know not anything" (Eccles. 9:5). The sad truth is that even after we have been born again, we carry part of this death with us until we slough it off in the grave. Thus even after being born again, we still have two wills to contend with. This was Augustine's experience and it generated and colored his whole understanding of the truth of the Gospel of grace. Indeed, it was out of this experience that he really recovered for the Christian Church the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of man. For man being spiritually dead could not possibly initiate out of his own inner being the seeds of spiritual life nor, having been redeemed, generate out of the old life that which is pleasing to God. Augustine's past continued to press heavily on his soul and agonizingly thwarted his aspirations after holiness, until he reached a crisis.
I flung myself down, how I do not know, under a certain fig tree, giving free course to my tears. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart when, behold, I heard a voice as of a boy or a girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting and oft repeating, "Take up and read take up and read." I grasped [the New Testament manuscript in his hands], opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Rom. 13:13, 14). No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended--by a light. as it were, of security infused into my heart, all the gloom of doubt vanished away (Vlll.xii.28, 29).And so he went in at once to his mother to tell her what happened: "We make it known to her--she rejoiceth! We relate how it came to pass: she leapeth for joy [She was then nearly sixty years old] and triumpheth and blesseth Thee who art 'able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think'" (Vlll.xii.30).
So was this great warrior consecrated to the Lord's service.
Francis Thompson's beautiful poem "The Hound of Heaven" seems almost as though it were written to describe Augustine's experience. It opens with these words:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;An edition of this poem was published in 1926 with perceptive comments on the text by Michael A. Kelly. I found his remarks on line 114 of the poem particularly interesting. The line is a short one. It reads, "I am defenseless utterly." At this moment in the poem Francis Thompson, after a long chase through the years, was now in the position of being nearly overtaken by God. Upon this Kelly comments as follows:
I fled Him, down the arches of the years
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet--
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
This is a terrible revelation to some souls (for we are all Pelagians at heart and would wish to be able to work out our salvation without God's grace)--the fact that with all their striving they get no closer to God, for they hit wide of the mark all the time by not preparing for and awaiting God's coming to them. What we can and must do is to cooperate with God's grace.This is a noteworthy comment, for while Kelly is suggesting that Pelagianism is an error, he simply substitutes Arminianism instead. Pelagius said, "If a man sets his mind to it he can save his own soul without God's help." Arminius said, "Not so. He must have God's help. He must cooperate with God since he alone cannot save himself." Augustine, in complete contrast to both these positions, held that man is so totally corrupted in his being that he cannot contribute anything whatever. He is spiritually dead and entirely incapable of cooperating with God in any way. Augustine's own experience had taught him that he could not assist God in any way, and his own experience had also taught him that he could not refuse God in any way either. In his comment, Michael Kelly reflects the view so widely held today, that while man is not able to save himself, he can at least prepare himself to receive the salvation God offers by opening his own heart or at the very least by not resisting the overtures of the Holy Spirit. Modern man's experience, as he licks the wounds of the last two great wars, probably does not encourage too many Pelagians. But the great majority of men still prefer to believe that they have enough autonomy left to be in a position to refuse or to accept the offer of God's salvation just as they have a mind to do.
Augustine died in 430 A.D. at the age of seventy-six. He never left his beloved North Africa for any substantial length of time. His life must have been exceedingly busy, for in addition to his duties as a bishop, his pen was constantly at work. Through his writings, his influence on the development of theology for centuries to come has been enormous. It is sometimes said that in the period of forty-four years between his conversion and his death he produced over a thousand treatises on every aspect of Christian doctrine. As a reflection of the influence of these writings, it may be noted that a bibliography listing works on Augustine published between 1950 and 1960 numbered in excess of five thousand titles.
We have already noted that Augustine's initial emphasis upon the unique role played by the Church of Rome in his conversion strongly influenced him to think of it as the only vehicle of God's mercy. This was seized upon by that institution as the basis for an exclusiveness which, there is little doubt, Augustine in his later years would have abhorred. Augustine's subsequent emphasis upon the Total Depravity of man and the corruption of his will was to play a very significant role in the formulation of the teachings of the Reformers. It thus came about that out of the voluminous works of a single individual there emerged finally two strongly opposed schools of theology, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant. Perhaps in a manner of speaking the second would not have emerged with clarity without the first, and we may therefore praise God for the whole of Augustine's ministry of writing, despite its sometimes contradictory nature. At any rate, Augustine stands as a major link between Paul and Calvin.
From Paul to Augustine the major emphasis theologically had been on the nature and Person of Christ as God-made-man, and experientially, on repentance and faith as the basis of salvation, and on good works (such as almsgiving, prayers, and submission to certain sacraments of the Church such as baptism) as proof of the reality of conversion. Increasingly there had developed a kind of tacit agreement that conversion resulted from a cooperation of wills, the human and the divine. By threat or argument or appeal men were persuaded to respond. Long before Arminius left his personal impress upon the Church of God, Arminianism had swept the early Christian world. Men are by nature Arminian. It is easy to believe that man has a say in his salvation, a contribution to make, a frame of mind for which he is personally responsible and without which God is powerless. Pelagius drops easily into a ministry to the elite in society who seem likely to be most amenable, since good breeding is easily mistaken for an improved nature. In such a theological environment it is obvious that Paul's insistence upon Predestination and Election will be toned down until it means no more than that God can foresee who will by nature be responsive and who will not. There are clearly some who don't respond and some who do. The difference is not in the sovereignty of Election but in the responsiveness of the individual. Some men seem to have a form of natural goodness which makes them more susceptible to persuasion, more amenable to reason, more sensitive to the overtures of God, more aware of personal need. Predestination in this view is simply based on foreknowledge. The decision to believe rests ultimately with the individual. Man elects for God, not God for man.
There is no doubt that in spite of this erroneous view of how God's grace is made effectual, the grace of God in saving some guaranteed the continuance of the Body of Christ as a vital living reality through these early centuries, even as it continues today. It is therefore no hindrance to the work of God that those whose lives are effectively renewed do not at all understand the circumstances of this renewal or the theology which underlies it. It is not necessary to a vital Christian experience to comprehend, or even be aware of, the mysteries of divine Election and Predestination. Christian piety is possible without theology provided there is a true conversion; and alternatively, a sound theology is no guarantee of Christian piety. Wesley almost certainly saved England from a "French Revolution," though he embraced the Arminian heresy and left to his followers a legacy of piety without theology.
There is a warfare going on, an unending struggle between falsehood and truth regarding the nature of man and his destiny. This falsehood, which encourages man to believe he has powers of self-redemption (powers which experience nevertheless demonstrates he does not have), is prosecuted forcefully by means of propaganda in printed form that is cogent and reasonable and effectively produced. It is everywhere, in our romance novels, in our idealistic film themes, in our reconstructions of history, in our philosophy of education, and even, alas, in many of our churches. What is needed to combat this steady stream of propaganda is not merely piety and the ambiguous testimony of individual experience, but an equally reasoned and powerfully convincing presentation of the truth. In short, we need a recovery of sound doctrine rather than emphasis on emotional experience.
History has largely decided the kite of Methodism already. Thousands of church buildings which once housed active and devout Methodist congregations all over North America now stand entirely deserted or have been taken over by congregations whose mission is almost wholly social betterment on a worldly level and whose "theology" is nothing more than a humanism parading as Christian endeavor. A substantial part of the so-called Christian community is either Pelagian or Arminian. That which gives to the individual equal power with God is either humanism, or it is a distortion of the Gospel. And such a distortion, being untrue, is really no Gospel at all. It is no Gospel to an utterly defeated human being to tell him that if he will cooperate with God in the right way God will save him.
What Augustine did was to preserve the Church of Christ in the West from losing sight of the truth of man's hopelessness and helplessness before God. He awakened God's people to the creeping disease of Christian humanism which was evident even then from the successes of Pelagius in Rome and from the growing "Arminianism" which was reflected in the writings of Chrysostom and Jerome and many other Christian theologians by the end of the fourth century A.D. If man did not have it within his power to save himself as Pelagius claimed he did, neither did he have it within his power to embrace the salvation of God made possible through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Both erroneous views credited man with a kind of freedom of will that he does not have.
Man, Augustine argued, has freedom only in one direction. He is free when he sins. As a sinner, man can achieve a curious integrity when he makes no attempt to hide his sin. An Anglican Bishop said recently, "Modern young people are so delightfully wicked!" And Augustine spoke of the unabashed wickedness of pagan man as exhibited in his "splendid vices." Years before this, the Roman writer Scaevola is reputed to have said, "A totally evil man has an irresistible charm and excites the envy and admiration of those who dare not display their own true selves so completely. Total evil has a kind of virtue of its own, an honesty." This kind of freedom is like that of the free fall of the man who jumps from his plane and delays opening his parachute. There are virtually no experienced restraints. The anticipated enjoyment of such an activity is like those who "promise themselves liberty" (2 Peter 2:19), yet are really wholly in bondage to gravity. They become momentarily "free among the dead," as the Psalmist put it poetically (Ps. 88:5).
What Augustine had learned by experience was that the human will is corrupted at the source. When unregenerate man struggles against the evil propensities of his nature, he does so by exercising his will--the dynamic force which lies at the root of those evil propensities. The very exercise of his will in this struggle has the effect only of making it stronger! Augustine found such a struggle spiritually self-defeating because it served in the end only to reinforce at the core of his being the source of the sinfulness he so much hated. The man who of his own will determine to overcome evil is defeating his own purposes by strengthening the very will that is the seat of his evil desires. The power for evil is self-reinforced, and thus self-reformation becomes a wholly self-defeating exercise. It is a vicious circle.
Quoting 2 Peter 2:19, Augustine expressed this idea by saying, "Of whom a man is overcome, of the same he is brought into bondage." The man who overcomes himself becomes in bondage to himself. And this self is sinful. It was one of the defects of Puritanism that by laying emphasis upon outward acts and concentrating energies on suppressing this or that particular fault, the man who overcomes is credited with having overcome sin itself. What he may suppress are only the symptoms, not the disease. But like the man who uses aspirin freely, there comes such ready and long-lasting relief that he is in danger of forgetting the disease itself and ignoring it until it is his undoing.
Or alternatively, a man can surrender to the disease and learn to accept it willingly; he can even learn to enjoy it. So sin also has its pleasures. As Augustine puts it:
What kind of liberty, I ask, can the bondslave possess except when it delights him to serve sin? For he only is free in his bondage who does with pleasure the will of his master. Accordingly, he who is the servant of sin is free to sin. Hence he will not be free to do right until, being freed from sin, he shall begin to be the servant of righteousness.... "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8 36). And before this freedom is wrought in a man, when he is not yet free to what is right, how can he talk of the freedom of his will? (1)Well, he can of course, but he can speak of freedom only in one direction. He acts freely when he does evil because that is natural to his will. It is a unidirectional freedom, the kind of freedom that the man enjoys in "free fall." Not until a man tries to reverse his course does he suddenly become aware of his bondage. Augustine became intensely aware of his bondage as soon as he tried to break out of it and govern his own unruly spirit.
Augustine argued rightly that man as created was truly free, free to sin or not to sin. Man in Adam lost this kind of freedom of will by an act of disobedience which was a demonstration of how free he had originally been. Augustine had a striking analogy: "A man who kills himself must, of course, be alive when he kills himself, but after he has killed himself he ceases to live and cannot restore himself to life." (2) But by the same token he will not even want to restore himself to life. So, again, he is "free among the dead." It is a kind of freedom. What is true of physical life is paralleled by what happens in man's spiritual life. Sometimes it is objected that a man can always refuse a gift. He has this much freedom at least. But there is one gift which he cannot refuse: and that is the gift of life. He will not be offered it because he is dead. It can only be conferred upon him and it is not within his power to refuse it.
The intensity of Augustine's nature, and the seriousness of his search for holiness and for fellowship with God, set him pondering why that which he so earnestly desired was not at all within his grasp as a pagan, and still often eluded him even when he had been so wonderfully converted. Daily he wrote down his thoughts and it became the consuming passion of his life to understand why the human will is so corrupted by nature and so powerless for good.
Augustine saw man as not merely misguided in his search, or defective in his understanding, or blurred in his vision of the truth, or sick in the moral fibre of his being. He saw man as hopelessly lost, blind and dead. Man cannot respond to God's love merely by being told about it, any more than a corpse of a loved one can respond to the appeals of the bereaved. Man needs resurrecting first: to be made alive in order that he may love God, not to love God in order that he may be made alive. The initiative must always be with God. Nor can he hinder the grace of God. The dead cannot refuse resurrection any more than the dead can ask for it. Divine Election and sovereign grace, not human inclination, are what account for man's salvation. Yet it is human inclination that accounts for man's lost condition. The intending suicide acts according to his own will; but should he succeed he is certainly totally unable to undo what he has done, and even unable to wish it undone.
The question of the bondage of the human will as it sets itself against the will of God was the crucial issue in Augustine's thinking, and his works upon the subject constitute the basis of Luther's Bondage of the Will and of Calvin's absolute assurance that salvation is entirely the work of God. Augustine's thinking along these lines was undoubtedly largely stimulated by his conversations with Ambrose. Ambrose had said, in fact, "If you are an unbeliever (when you die), Christ did not die for you." (3) Nothing could be clearer than this. The Election of God is sovereign. No man elected to salvation could possibly die or be killed unsaved. If he died unsaved, he was not one of the elect. There was no thwarting of the purposes of God in this.
Towards the end of his life, Augustine went back over his works and sought to remove some of the potential contradictions that arose as a consequence of his developing understanding. He published his thoughts under the title Retractions, by which he meant not "withdrawals" but "redrawals" or "re-views." But he did correct a few earlier statements. Thus he wrote in one place: "I could never have asserted that God in choosing men to live had any respect to their faith had I duly considered that faith itself is His own gift." (4) This agreed entirely with an observation he had made regarding John 15:16: "Since Christ says, 'Ye have not chosen Me,' I would fain ask whether it be scriptural to say we must have faith before we are elected. and not rather that we are elected in order to our having faith." He returned to this theme again and again. Common faith is the possession of all men: faith in the word of a friend, in the laws of nature, in the witness of one's own senses (what one hears and sees as being real). But saving faith is entirely a work of God and beyond man's natural ability. "God hath from the beginning elected you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). Election is first: faith with respect to the truth of God comes as a consequence. So "as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed" (Acts 13:48) and no others. This was the theme about which Augustine structured his thinking during the last half of his writing ministry. As he put it:
Whatsoever persons are through the riches of divine grace exempted from the original sentence of condemnation are undoubtedly brought to hear the Gospel, and when hearing they are caused to believe it, and are made likewise to endure to the end in the faith which works by love. And should they at any time go astray, they are recovered and set right again. (5)Here are Election and eternal security. Later he adds: "All these things are wrought in them by that God who made them vessels of mercy and who, by the election of his grace, chose them in his Son before the world began." And here then is Predestination. As Augustine put it elsewhere: "The grace of God does not find men fit to be elected, but makes them so....The nature of the divine goodness is not only to open to those who knock but also to cause them to knock and ask." (6) Thus John wrote, "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
The crucial issue is this. Some men respond and some do not. Why do some and not all men respond to so manifest a good as the eternal salvation of their own souls? Because they are different! In what way? In some way that makes them better judges of what is good? Or just a kind of natural disposition less hostile to the things of God? Are not all such distinguishing marks, if they really exist, but evidences that all men are not equal before God, that it is not out of the same lump that some are made vessels of honor while others are made vessels of dishonour? But we know these things are not true. It is "of the same lump" that both kinds of vessels are made (Rom. 9:21). There are not any differences between men (1 Cor. 4:7) as there are no differences in the responsiveness of the bodies of the dead. Their response is wholly predictable: it is nil. The spiritually dead are all alike: dead and unresponsive unless first quickened by the Spirit of God. The Psalmist cried: "Quicken us and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts...and we shall be saved" (Ps. 80:18, 19). It has to be God's initiative, not man's; for "the dead know not anything" (Eccles. 9.5).
Augustine did not believe that man could or did will to be saved. But rather he believed that God graciously converted his will. He was "made willing" by God's grace. Man is an entirely passive participant in this work of God. Just as we may change a man's mind by demonstration of a truth without destroying the mind's power of independent thought, so God can change a man's will by gracious intervention without destroying the will's power of independent expression. Demonstration is to the mind what persuasion is to the will. Neither is destroyed by the change which may be brought about in each case. Augustine gladly admitted that man is capable of exercising saving faith, for clearly the converted man is doing just this. The capacity for exercising this kind of faith is present in man but is dormant until it is awakened by the Holy Spirit and given a direction and a content and a character which were formerly entirely foreign to it. To the unregenerate soul, the things which we as the Lord's children believe are simply "unbelievable." There is no way unaided man can change the character of his faith for himself. Saving faith is a gift. Man has "power" to exercise saving faith but there is no power but comes from God (Rom. 13:1). (7)
This empowering of God is not, however, applied to a creature who has not the requisite capacity for receiving and exercising it. In the elect, saving faith acts upon what Luther refers to as a "passive aptitude" in man. It is a passive aptitude but it is an aptitude implanted in human nature by the Creator which distinguishes all men from all other creatures, angelic or animal. It makes man unique in that he is a potentially redeemable creature. Man does have the power to exercise will. It is only that his will is corrupted in such a way that it is by nature in opposition to the will of God. Because we are conscious of volition, we suppose our volition is free. What we discover by experience is that our freedom of will is unidirectional. We are truly free only when we sin, for we are then acting according to our nature, a fact which accounts for the pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). It comes as a surprise to many people, when they make this discovery.
Originally Augustine had allowed that man has some freedom of choice in the matter of his salvation. In his work On the Predestination of the Saints (III.7) he had written: "The grace of God consists merely in this, that God in the preaching of the truth reveals his Will; but to assent to this Gospel when it is preached is our own work [my emphasis] and lies within our own power." But in his Apology (XVlll.vii.8) he says: "I have erred when I said it lies within our power to believe and to will." Pelagius had held the maxim, "It is mine to be willing to believe; it is the part of God's grace to assist." In this manner the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been corrupted almost unrecognizably. But such was the enormous influence of Augustine's pen that the Church of Rome was convinced of the propriety of his rejection of Pelagianism and they officially condemned it by the Synod of Orange in 529 A.D. By contrast, the same Church slowly rejected his doctrine of the Total Depravity of man. With this rejection went also the eclipse of the truth of Predestination and Election. Growing emphasis was placed upon formal membership in the Church of Rome, assent to its dogmas, and participation in its sacraments and its ritual. The works of Augustine were seldom studied or even read by Luther's time, except among a few persecuted fragments of the Body of Christ such as the Waldensians.
The cardinal truth of the sovereignty of grace and the total incapacity of man had been recovered by Augustine and explored in a way entirely new. It was he who had crystallized the theology of Predestination and Election which are the corollary of man's total incapacity and helplessness and God's sovereign grace. The Reformation was essentially a revival of Augustinianism, as Augustinianism was a recovery of Pauline theology; and Paul's theology was a clear enunciation of the Gospel as applied to man's need.
I cannot do better to set this in historical perspective than to quote from a great theologian of the recent past, Benjamin B. Warfield. In his book Calvin and Augustine (pp. 320f), he wrote:
The great contribution which Augustine has made to the world's life and thought is embodied in the theology of grace, which he has presented with remarkable clearness and force, vitally in his Confessions and as a thesis in his anti-Pelagian treatises....References:
A new Christian piety dates from him in which, in place of the alternations of hope and fear which vex the lives of those who, in whatever degree, hang their hopes on their own merits, a mood of assured trust in the mercy of a gracious God is substituted as the spring of Christian life. And a new theology corresponding to this new type of piety dates from him; a theology which, recalling man from all dependence on his own powers or merits, casts him decisively on the grace of God alone for his salvation. Of course, this doctrine was not new in the sense that it was Augustine's invention; it was the doctrine of Paul, for example, before it was the doctrine of Augustine, and was only recovered for the Church by Augustine, though in that age, dominated in all its thinking by the dregs of Stoic rationalism, it came with all the force of a new discovery...
It required ten years before the revived Paulinism attained even a fully consistent positive enunciation (first in the work Dediversis quaestionibus ad Simplicianum, A.D. 396); and, though the leaven worked steadily thereafter more and more deeply and quietly into his thought, death intervened before all the elements of his thinking were completely leavened...
His doctrine of the Church he had received whole from his predecessor, and he gave it merely the precision and vitality which insured its persistence. His doctrine of grace was all his own: it represented the very core of his being; and his whole progress in Christian thinking consists in the growing completeness with which its fundamental principles applied themselves in his mind to every department of life and thought...
It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation. For the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the Church. This doctrine of grace came from Augustine's hands in its positive outline completely formulated: sinful man depends for his recovery to good and to God entirely on the free grace of God; this grace is therefore indispensable, prevenient, irresistible, indefectible; and being thus the free grace of God, must have lain in all the details of its conference and working, in the intention of God from all eternity...
If the necessity of prevenient grace was thereafter [after the second Council of Orange, 529] the established doctrine of the Church, the irresistibility of this prevenient grace was put under the ban and there remained no place for a complete "Augustinianism" within the Church, as Gottschalk and Jansen were fully to discover. Therefore, when the great revival of religion which we call the Reformation came, seeing that it was on its theological side a revival of "Augustinianism," as all great revivals of religion must be (for Augustinianism is but the thetical expression of religion in its purity), there was nothing for it but the rending of the Church.
1. Enchiridion. XXX.
3. Quoted in Jerome Zanchius, Absolute Predestination, p. 20.
4. Ibid., p. 62.
5. On Rebuke and Grace. XIII.
6. Quoted in Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 102.
7. Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, LIV, IX.