Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Augustine on Efficacious Grace, Part 1 of 3

It is indisputable that Augustine believed that prior to regeneration effected solely by God’s will, man is unable to act in obedience to God, for man’s free will avails only for sinning while subjected to the devil. What is as yet unclear is whether or not Augustine believed all men without exception are regenerated and whether or not those who are regenerated are merely put in a position in which they can accept or reject the gospel. The first question is one related to the intention and choice of God; the second question is related to the efficacy of grace. The latter will be considered in what follows.

In Book 2 of his Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Augustine, who has by this juncture in his treatise established the complete extensiveness of the depravity of fallen men’s wills, links this fact with how one can come to desire what is good: 

“God does many good things in man which man does not do; but man does none which God does not cause man to do. Accordingly, there would be no desire of good in man from the Lord if it were not a good; but if it is a good, we have it not save from Him who is supremely and incommunicably good.” (Chapter 21)

In an effort to contravene the obvious import of this passage, one might contrive the last sentence to mean: “the use of what capacity we have to do good is in what sense any good desire comes from God alone, for God alone provided us with that capacity.” This Pelagianistic explanation, however, is not consistent with Augustine’s premise; to wit, God “causes” us to do good. Such a statement relates to [will and] action. God does not only enable us to will; He causes us to will. 

Augustine supports this thesis in various ways. In Book 4, Chapter 15 – “Grace is Proved to Be Gratuitous and Effectual” – Augustine’s disbelief of Pelagian presumption is practically palpable:

“Nothing so overturns the presumption of men who say, “We do it, that we may deserve those things with which God may do it.” 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 ye do out of a heart which is not good? But 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.” Can you say, We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgment, and will do so that we may be worthy, such as He should give His grace to? But what good would ye evil men do, and how should you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But who causes that men should be good save Him who said, “And I will visit them to make them good”? and who said “I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them”? Are ye thus not yet awake? Do ye not yet hear, “I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,” lastly, “I will make you to do”? What! are you still puffing yourselves up? We indeed walk, it is true; we observe; we do; but He makes us to walk, to observe, to do.”

He argues the point in many other books as well. In On Grace and Free Will, he provides at least two such arguments:

“For Paul’s… conversion [was] by that great and most effectual call, God’s grace was alone, because his merits, though great, were yet evil.” (Chapter 12)

“Now if faith is simply of free will, and is not given by God, why do we pray for those who will not believe, that they may believe? This it would be absolutely useless to do, unless we believe, with perfect propriety, that Almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith.” (Chapter 29)

The reasons for believing efficacious grace is necessary are many: biblical precedent; allusion to man’s inability to will or do good prior to such grace; absurdities that must be maintained if one believes man is not given belief by God (among which would include the uselessness of prayer and total disregard of Scripture). This is not to say that Augustine denied man’s participation in his own salvation. Many who misunderstand the doctrines of grace believe that if a will is determined, the will itself is rendered passive. This is not at all the case nor is it what Augustine taught.

The Predestination of the Saints

One of his latest works, The Predestination of the Saints, was written against semi-Pelagians, those who, among other heresies, ascribed the beginning of faith (and hence, salvation) to man. One would expect, then, that Augustine would be chiefly concerned with the God-ward side of salvation. In reading the whole book, one can see that this is evidently the case. But in several chapters, Augustine highlights the man-ward side of salvation as well:

““Wherefore is it preached and prescribed to us that we should turn away from evil and do good, if it is not we that do this, but ‘God who worketh in us to will and to do it’?” But let them rather understand that if they are the children of God, they are led by the Spirit of God to do that which should be done; and when they have done it, let them give thanks to Him by whom they act. For they are acted upon that they may act, not that they may themselves do nothing.” (Chapter 4)

“…faith is the gift of God, although when it is said, “If thou believest, thou shalt be saved,” faith is required of us, and salvation is proposed to us as a reward. For [faith and mortifying the deeds of the flesh] are both commanded us, and are shown to be God’s gifts, in order that we may understand both that we do them, and that God makes us to do them, as He most plainly says by the prophet Ezekiel. For what is plainer than when He says, “I will cause you to do”? Give heed to that passage of Scripture, and you will see that God promises that He will make them to do those things which He commands to be done.” (Chapter 22)

Conditional salvation is approved by synergists and monergists. The difference lies in the distinction between a necessary and sufficient condition. Synergists (the semi-Pelagians, here) believe God’s grace is necessary to be saved but is intrinsically insufficient to effect that which it was purposed to produce: our repentance, faith, and perseverance. Monergists like Augustine not only believe that grace is necessary to procure the conditions of salvation but also believe that grace is sufficient to effect one’s will to achieve the conditions; thus, Christians are said to have been “made” to will the conditions, even though the Christian was not passive in the willing.


“It is obvious that a man who is old enough to exercise his reason cannot believe, hope, or love unless he wills it, nor could he run for the prize of his high calling in God without a decision of his will. In what sense, therefore, is it "not a matter of human willing or running but of God's showing mercy," unless it be that "the will itself is prepared by the Lord," even as it is written? This saying, therefore, that "it is not a matter of human willing or running but of God's showing mercy," means that the action is from both, that is to say, from the will of man and from the mercy of God. Thus we accept the dictum, "It is not a matter of human willing or running but of God's showing mercy," as if it meant, "The will of man is not sufficient by itself unless there is also the mercy of God." By the same token, the mercy of God is not sufficient by itself unless there is also the will of man. But if we say rightly that "it is not a matter of human willing or running but of God's showing mercy," because the will of man alone is not enough, why, then, is not the contrary rightly said, "It is not a matter of God's showing mercy but of a man's willing," since the mercy of God by itself alone is not enough? Now, actually, no Christian would dare to say, "It is not a matter of God's showing mercy but of man's willing," lest he explicitly contradict the apostle. The conclusion remains, therefore, that this saying: "Not man's willing or running but God's showing mercy," is to be understood to mean that the whole process is credited to God, who both prepareth the will to receive divine aid and aideth the will which has been thus prepared.”(Enchiridion, Chapter 32)

As one of the more often cited monergistic passages, Augustine’s exegesis of Romans 9:16 is noteworthy, especially in that it begins by affirming the obvious role man’s will must play in his salvation and ends having explained that such a will can be caused without being negated. Regeneration changes our nature such that we more strongly desire to repent and believe than to continue fulfilling the lusts of the flesh:

On Grace and Free Will

“I offer this particular petition to God, you may understand in what sense I said, “If thou wilt, thou mayest keep the commandments.” For it is certain that we keep the commandments if we will; but because the will is prepared by the Lord, we must ask of Him for such a force of will as suffices to make us act by the willing. It is certain that it is we that will when we will, but it is He who makes us 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 his way doth He will.” Of the same Lord again it is said, “It is God who worketh in you, even to will!” It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, “I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them.” 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? 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? It is He who causes us to act, to whom the human suppliant says, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth.” That is to say: Make or enable me, O Lord, to set a watch before my mouth, a benefit which he had already obtained from God who thus described its influence: “I set a watch upon my mouth.”” (Chapter 32)

“In beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will. On which account the apostle says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us.”(Chapter 33)

Some might jump on the phrase “co-operates” as though Augustine did not just finish explaining that until we will, God acts alone. But if read in the context, Augustine is not at all supporting a perspective of autonomy but rather aiming to show that we do not act involuntarily when we do will His precepts. In fact, Augustine makes quite clear a little later in On Grace and Free Willprecisely how sovereign God is in all matters (which will be examined in the next note).


Augustine believed soteric grace:

1. is necessary due to the fact that “…out of a heart which is not good [we can do no good].”

2. is “…gratuitous and effectual.”

3. “…makes us to walk, to observe, to do.”

4. shows “…[faith and mortifying the deeds of the flesh]… to be God’s gifts, in order that we may understand both that we do them, and that God makes us to do them.”

5. is “…able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith.”

6. is such “…that [men] may act, not that they may themselves do nothing.”

7. is “…sufficient by itself.”

8. is the result of a God who “…makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will.”

9. “…remove[s] your hard heart, out of which you did not act and… give[s] you an obedient heart, out of which you shall act.”

10. “operates without us.”

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