Augustine on Unconditional Election

Here are some excellent lines from Augustine on the doctrine of election – specifically unconditional election.  Augustine wrote these words in his comments on John 15:15-16.

“Ye have not chosen me,” He says, “but I have chosen you.” Grace such as that is ineffable. For what were we so long as Christ had not yet chosen us, and we were therefore still destitute of love? For he who hath chosen Him, how can he love Him? Were we, think you, in that condition which is sung of in the psalm: “I had rather be an abject in the house of the Lord, than dwell in the tents of wickedness”?  Certainly not. What were we then, but sinful and lost? We had not yet come to believe on Him, in order to lead to His choosing us; for if it were those who already believed that He chose, then was He chosen Himself, prior to His choosing. But how could He say, “Ye have not chosen me,” save only because His mercy anticipated us?

Here surely is at fault the vain reasoning of those who defend the foreknowledge of God in opposition to His grace, and with this view declare that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, because God foreknew that we should be good, but not that He Himself would make us good. So says not He, who declares, “Ye have not chosen me.” For had He chosen us on the ground that He foreknew that we should be good, then would He also have foreknown that we would not be the first to make choice of Him. For in no other way could we possibly be good: unless, forsooth, one could be called good who has never made good his choice.

What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.” To which he adds: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.”

Listen, thou ungrateful one, listen: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Not that thou mayest say, I am chosen because I already believed. For if thou wert believing in Him, then hadst thou already chosen Him. But listen: “Ye have not chosen me.” Not that thou mayest say, Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen. For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”?  What, then, are we to say on hearing such words, “Ye have not chosen me,” but that we were evil, and were chosen in order that we might be good through the grace of Him who chose us? For it is not by grace, if merit preceded: but it is of grace: and therefore that grace did not find, but effected the merit.

Augustine of Hippo. “Lectures or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John.” St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. John Gibb and James Innes. Vol. 7. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888. 353.

rev shane lems
hammond, wi

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