Unconditional Election and Ineffable Grace (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume VII Augustine clearly taught unconditional election; it did not originate with Calvin.  They both rejected the teaching of conditional election, that God elects people because he foresaw faith in them.  Furthermore, both Calvin and Augustine found unconditional election in Scripture.  Here are Augustine’s comments on John 15:16 (You did not choose Me but I chose you – NASB):

Ineffable grace! For what were we before Christ had chosen us, but wicked, and lost? We did not believe in Him, so as to be chosen by Him: for had He chosen us believing, He would have chosen us choosing.

This passage refutes the vain opinion of those who say that we were chosen before the foundation of the world because God foreknew that we should be good, not that He Himself would make us good.

For had He chosen us because He foreknew that we should be good, He would have foreknown also that we should first choose Him, for without choosing Him we cannot be good; unless indeed he can be called good who hath not chosen good.

What then hath He chosen in them who are not good? Thou canst not say, ‘I am chosen because I believed’; for hadst thou believed in Him, thou hadst chosen Him. Nor canst thou say, ‘Before I believed I did good works, and therefore was chosen.’ For what good work is there before faith?

What is there for us to say then, but that we were wicked, and were chosen, [so] that by the grace of the chosen we might become good?

This quote can be found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7, tractate LXXXVI.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

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Tongues Now Passed Away (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume VII I enjoy reading Augustine’s various writings.  Even though I don’t always agree with him, his insight is helpful, his writing is stimulating, and he was gifted to explain the truth in a captivating way.  This morning when I was reading his comments on 1 John 3:23-24 I was struck by how Augustine spoke about the work and gift of the Holy Spirit in history.  He basically says that at first, the Spirit gifted God’s people to speak in tongues (Acts 2 for example).  However, Augustine notes, that time is passed and now the evidence of the Spirit’s work is in our love for one another.  Here are his comments:

In the earliest times, “the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues,” which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance” [Acts 2:4].  These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.

In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants [new believers], did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, ‘These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times?’

If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother, the Spirit of God dwelleth in him.  …Question thine heart. If love of thy brethren be there, set thy mind at rest. There cannot be love without the Spirit of God: since Paul cries, “The love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”

 Augustine of Hippo, “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 497–498.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Predestination Must Be Preached (Augustine)

Scripture teaches predestination.  For two examples, consider Ephesians 1 and Romans 9.  In these chapters, Paul says that before the foundation of the world, God chose a certain number of people to salvation in Christ.  He did this not based on man’s merits or choice, but his own mercy and sovereign will.  Election is therefore unconditional; it’s not conditional upon a person’s choice, will, or works.  In the early 5th century Augustine echoed Scripture’s teaching on this point as did others later in church history.  The Reformers also taught this truth in the 16th century and the doctrine of unconditional election is found in the Reformed Confessions.

In fact, the Reformed Confessions say that this truth of election must be taught and preached:  Here’s article 14 of the 1st point of doctrine in the Canons of Dort:

“As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God was declared by the prophets, by Christ himself, and by the apostles, and is clearly revealed in the Scriptures both of the Old and the New Testament, so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed….”

Augustine said the same thing around 1,200 years before the Canons of Dort were written:

Wherefore, if both the apostles and the teachers of the Church who succeeded them and imitated them did both these things—that is, both truly preached the grace of God which is not given according to our merits, and inculcated by wholesome precepts a pious obedience—what is it which these people of our time think themselves rightly bound by the invincible force of truth to say, “Even if what is said of the predestination of God’s benefits be true, yet it must not be preached to the people”?

It must absolutely be preached, so that he who has ears to hear, may hear. And who has them if he has not received them from Him who says, “I will give them a heart to know me, and ears to hear”? Assuredly, he who has not received may reject; while, yet, he who receives may take and drink, may drink and live. For as piety must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God may be rightly worshipped; modesty must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, no illicit act may be perpetrated by his fleshly nature; charity must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God and his neighbours may be loved—so also must be preached such a predestination of God’s benefits that he who has ears to hear may glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 546–547.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Augustine and Love (Oberman)

The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications This is an excellent resource: The Reformation: Roots and Ramifications” by Heiko Oberman.  I just finished reading the chapter that covered mysticism in the medieval church; it was quite helpful.  It’s too detailed to summarize in one blog post, so for now I’ll just quote a section where Oberman summarized Augustine’s view of love.  This is worth thinking about – especially the two different “orbits”.

[Augustine was] a theologian of love. Not only is his great survey of history in ‘De civitate Dei’ (The City of God) shot through with the theme of love, but his ‘Confessiones’ (Confessions) take from the love of God and from God’s love a new definition of the person. Reason and intellect do not place us in the cosmic hierarchy, contrary to what Augustine had learned while studying philosophy, but love. Love is ‘pondus’ (weight), and ‘pondus’ is not a burden but rather gravity, and therefore determines the orbit into which a human being gravitates.

Augustine assumes that there are only two sorts of people, who move in two different orbits. One sort rotates around themselves, the other sort, around God. Both orbits are determined by the love that seeks the center, either by amor sui, self-love, or by amor Dei, the love of God. In order to make the jump from the ‘self-centered’ orbit to the other one, human beings need the help of a sovereign act of God. God alone makes this jump from the old to the new orbit happen—by his grace alone, ‘sola gratia.’

Heiko Augustinus Oberman, The Reformation : Roots and Ramifications (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 82–83.

(A paperback copy of this book is available on Amazon.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Fairer Still Is the Maker of Heaven (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.8: Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms Many of us are familiar with the biblical truth that God is good, or benevolent, to all.  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45 NASB).  “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9 NASB).  In his comments on Psalm 86 Augustine reflected on this truth and used it to remind Christians of the greater gift of God to his people:

Think, brethren, and reflect what good things God giveth unto sinners: and learn hence what He keepeth for His own servants. To sinners who blaspheme Him every day He giveth the sky and the earth, He giveth springs, fruits, health, children, wealth, abundance: all these good things none giveth but God.

He who giveth such things to sinners, what thinkest thou He keeps for His faithful ones? Is this to be believed of Him, that He who giveth such things to the bad, keepeth nothing for the good? Nay verily He doth keep, not earth, but heaven for them. Too common a thing perhaps I say when I say heaven; Himself rather, who made the heaven. Fair is heaven, but fairer is the Maker of heaven

The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo,  vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 412.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Love Rightly Ordered (Augustine)

When Augustine was commenting on how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful” and married them (Gen. 6:2 NIV), he made a brilliant observation on God-given beauty and love rightly ordered:

And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable Good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately,

Augustine goes on to quote a poem/hymn, which he himself probably wrote:

It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator:

These are Thine, they are good,
because Thou art good who didst create them.
There is in them nothing of ours,
unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things,
and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.”

We might say this is also an exposition of the Bible’s teaching that we should love God first and foremost (Mt. 22:37).  Here’s one more paragraph from Augustine after his poem/hymn:

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me.”

There’s something to read again and think about: virtue is the right order of love.

These quotes are found in Augustine’s City of God, XV.22.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Divine Purpose and Foreknowledge (Augustine)

The Protestant Reformers did not make up their teaching about God’s foreknowledge, sovereignty, and divine purpose.  Here’s Augustine:

“Now God foreknew everything, and therefore could not have been unaware that man would sin.  It follows that all our assertions about the Holy City must take into account God’s foreknowledge and his providential design; we must not advance theories which could not have become matters of knowledge for us, because they had no place in God’s plan.  Man could not upset the divine purpose by his sin, in the sense of compelling God to alter his decision.  For God in his foreknowledge anticipated both results: he knew beforehand how evil the man would become whom God himself had created good; he also knew what good, even so, he would bring out of man’s evil.”

Of course, ultimately the Reformers did not lean on Augustine, but Scripture:

“[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV).

“[Jesus] was handed over…by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge…” (Acts 2:23 NIV).

“The plans of the LORD stand firm forever…” (Ps. 33:11 NIV).

“He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.          No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:35 NIV)

To be sure, there are quite a few other Bible texts that affirm the truth that God is sovereign and in total control of all things.  Nothing surprises him; his counsel will stand and nothing can thwart his plans or purposes.  This is good news for Christians.  Not only do all things come our way by the good and sovereign will of God, but our salvation is also secure because it is part of his sovereign plan in Christ.

The above quote from Augustine is found in City of God, XIV.11.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI