Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Augustine on Perseverance of the Saints

Augustine’s perspective on perseverance of believers unique, to say the least. He might say the saints persevere, but Augustine would qualify who a saint is differently than would one would adheres to the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints. He would consider a saint to be an elect individual over against a believer. Why would Augustine think it necessary to make such a qualification?

“Therefore, of two infants, equally bound by original sin, why the one is taken and the other left; and of two wicked men of already mature years, why this one should be so called as to follow Him that calleth, while that one is either not called at all, or is not called in such a manner – the judgments of God are unsearchable. But of two pious men, why to the one should be given perseverance unto the end, and to the other it should not be given, God’s judgments are even more unsearchable. Yet to believers it ought to be a most certain fact that the former is of the predestinated, the latter is not. “For if they had been of us,” says one of the predestinated, who had drunk this secret from the breast of the Lord, “certainly they would have continued with us.” What, I ask, is the meaning of, “They were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would certainly have continued with us”? Were not both created by God – both born of Adam – both made from the earth, and given from Him who said, “I have created all breath,” souls of one and the same nature? Lastly, had not both been called, and followed Him that called them? and had not both become, from wicked men, justified men, and both been renewed by the laver of regeneration? But if he were to hear this who beyond all doubt knew what he was saying, he might answer and say: These things are true. In respect of all these things, they were of us. Nevertheless, in respect of a certain other distinction, they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they certainly would have continued with us. What then is this distinction? God’s books lie open, let us not turn away our view; the divine Scripture cries aloud, let us give it a hearing. They were not of them, because they had not been “called according to the purpose;” they had not been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; they had not gained a lot in Him; they had not been predestinated according to His purpose who worketh all things. For if they had been this, they would have been of them, and without doubt they would have continued with them.” (The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 21)

Augustine believed – probably due in part to his belief in baptismal regeneration – that a believer could fail to persevere. Of course, this does not make Augustine unique; what makes Augustine unique is the fact that his soteriology was monergistic despite the fact he believed believers could fail to persevere:

“If, therefore, you confess that to persevere to the end in good is God’s gift, I think that equally with me you are ignorant why one man should receive this gift and another should not receive it; and in this case we are both unable to penetrate the unsearchable judgments of God. Or if you say that it pertains to man’s free will – which you defend, not in accordance with God’s grace, but in opposition to it – that any one should persevere in good, or should not persevere, and it is not by the gift of God if he persevere, but by the performance of human will, why will you strive against the words of Him who says, “I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not”? Will you dare to say that even when Christ prayed that Peter’s faith might not fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail; that is, if he had been unwilling that it should continue even to the end? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had asked for him that he might will. For who does not know that Peter’s faith would then have perished if that will by which he was faithful should fail, and that it would have continued if that same will should abide?” (On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 17)

Consistent with the rest of his beliefs, Augustine believed God’s grace is the sole distinguishing factor that determines one’s state before God. This is a point Augustine stresses many times, even in the context of a doctrine which many use to assert the autonomy of men:

““He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” No one of His own is indifferent to such a voice, a stranger does not hear it: for this reason also does He announce it to the former, that he may abide perseveringly with Himself to the end; but by one who is wanting in such persevering continuance with Him, such a word remains unheard.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 10:1-3)

““And they shall never perish:” you may hear the undertone, as if He had said to them, Ye shall perish for ever, because ye are not of my sheep.” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 10:22-42)

“For rebuke by the agency of man to avail, whether it be of love or not, depends only upon God.” (On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 9)

“To the saints predestinated to the kingdom of God by God’s grace, the aid of perseverance that is given is not such as the former, but such that to them perseverance itself is bestowed; not only so that without that gift they cannot persevere, but, moreover, so that by means of this gift they cannot help persevering. For not only did He say, “Without me ye can do nothing,” but He also said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” By which words He showed that He had given them not only righteousness, but perseverance therein. For when Christ thus ordained them that they should go and bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should remain, who would dare to say, It shall not remain? Who would dare to say, Perchance it will not remain? “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;” but the calling is of those who are called according to the purpose. When Christ intercedes, therefore, on behalf of these, that their faith should not fail, doubtless it will not fail unto the end. And thus it shall persevere even unto the end; nor shall the end of this life find it anything but continuing.” (On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 34)

“It is He, therefore, who makes them to persevere in good, who makes them good. But they who fall and perish have never been in the number of the predestinated. Although, then, the apostle might be speaking of all persons regenerated and living piously when he said, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth;” yet he at once had regard to the predestinated, and said, “But he shall stand;” and that they might not arrogate this to themselves, he says, “For God is able to make him stand.”” (On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 36)

“…after the fall of man, God willed it to pertain only to His grace that man should approach to Him; nor did He will it to pertain to aught but His grace that man should not depart from Him.” (The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 13)

“Wherefore, also He willed that He should be asked that we may not be led into temptation, because if we are not led, we by no means depart from Him. And this might have been given to us even without our praying for it, but by our prayer He willed us to be admonished from whom we receive these benefits.” (The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 15)

“See now how foreign it is from the truth to deny that perseverance even to the end of this life is the gift of God; since He Himself puts an end to this life when He wills, and if He puts an end before a fall that is threatening, He makes the man to persevere even unto the end.” (The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 41)

“…where he says, “I thank my God in every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making quest with joy for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,” what else does he promise to them from the mercy of God than perseverance in good to the end?” (The Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 10)

This last quote refers to the confidence one should feel that the God who begins our salvation can surely secure it. Given that the apostles apparently knew who was among the elect, perhaps one might posit that Augustine believed one may be assured by God’s promises to the elect only if one was specifically told he was among the elect. Actually, Augustine wrote that the same assurance could be possessed by his readers:

“If God works our faith, acting in a wonderful manner in our hearts so that we believe, is there any reason to fear that He cannot do the whole; and does man on that account arrogate to himself its first elements, that he may merit to receive its last from God? Consider if in such a way any other result be gained than that the grace of God is given in some way or other, according to our merit, and so grace is no more grace.” (The Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 6)

For Augustine, however, this cuts both ways. If God is both the root cause that one perseveres over against another, and if indeed “…it is uncertain whether any one has received this gift [of perseverance] so long as he is still alive” (The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 1), then one has no reason to believe God will finish what He began. This may explain why Augustine conflictingly writes that one should be fearful that he may lose his justification:

“God has judged it to be better to mingle some who would not persevere with a certain number of His saints, so that those for whom security from temptation in this life is not desirable may not be secure.” (The Gift of Perseverance, Chapter 19)

Further complications arise when one considers Augustine’s interpretation of 1 John 2:18-19 and John 6:60-66 (respectively):

“…there are some who are called by us children of God on account of grace received even in temporal things, yet are not so called by God; of whom the same John says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us, because if they had been of us they would, no doubt, have continued with us.” He does not say, “They went out from us, but because they did not abide with us they are no longer now of us;” but he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us,” – that is to say, even when they appeared among us, they were not of us. And as if it were said to him, “Whence do you prove this? he says, “Because if they had been of us, they would assuredly have continued with us.” It is the word of God’s children; John is the speaker, who was ordained to a chief place among the children of God. When, therefore, God’s children say of those who had not perseverance, “They went out from us, but they were not of us,” and add, “Because if they had been of us, they would assuredly have continued with us,” what else do they say than that they were not children, even when they were in the profession and name of children? Not because they simulated righteousness, but because they did not continue in it. For he does not say, “For if they had been of us, they would assuredly have maintained a real and not a feigned righteousness with us;” but he says, “If they had been of us, they would assuredly have continued with us.” Beyond a doubt, he wished them to continue in goodness. Therefore they were in goodness; but because they did not abide in it – that is, they did not persevere unto the end – he says, “they were not of us, even when they were with us” – that is, they were not of the number of children, even when they were in the faith of children; because they who are truly children are foreknown and predestinated as conformed to the image of His Son, and are called according to His purpose, so as to be elected. For the son of promise does not perish, but the son of perdition.” (Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 20)

“Are not these even in the words of the gospel called disciples? And yet they were not truly disciples, because they did not continue in His word, according to what He says: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye indeed my disciples.” Because, therefore, they possessed not perseverance, as not being truly disciples of Christ, so they were not truly children of God even when they appeared to be so, and were so called. We, then, call men elected, and Christ’s disciples, and God’s children, because they are to be so called whom, being regenerated, we see to live piously; but they are then truly what they are called if they shall abide in that on account of which they are so called. But if they have not perseverance – that is, if they continue not in that which they have begun to be – they are not truly called what they are called and are not; for they are not this in the sight of Him to whom it is known what they are going to be – that is to say, from good men, bad men.” (Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 22)

Indeed, Augustine writes that those who do not persevere should accordingly be regarded as indistinguishable “from that lump which it is plain is condemned, as all go from one into condemnation.” (Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 12). Apparently, Augustine’s doctrine of adoption is intrinsically tied to his doctrine of election. But as we cannot know that we are among the elect, one wonders on what basis one can claim to know he is a child of God. Furthermore, in his Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Augustine says that “all heretics, all schismatics went out from us, that is, they go out from the Church; but they would not go out, if they were of us” (2:17-18). Can we know that we are adopted or in the Church? Apparently not.

We needn’t color his beliefs. Augustine wasn’t entirely doctrinally sound, and he contradicted himself (as most men do) on some points. Be that as it may, Augustine is to be commended for his consistent upholding of God’s grace as that alone by which one is saved.

Summary

Augustine believed:

1. “[men do not persevere who have] not been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”

2. “… if you say that it pertains to man’s free will… that any one should persevere in good, or should not persevere, and it is not by the gift of God if he persevere, but by the performance of human will… you strive against the words of Him who says, “I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not.” 

3. “If God works our faith, acting in a wonderful manner in our hearts so that we believe… there [no] reason to fear that He cannot do the whole.”

4. “No one of His own is indifferent to [the Father’s] voice… for this reason also does He announce it to the [sheep], that he may abide perseveringly with Himself to the end.”

5. “…after the fall of man, God willed it to pertain only to His grace that man should approach to Him; nor did He will it to pertain to aught but His grace that man should not depart from Him.”

6. “It is He… who makes [men] to persevere in good, who makes them good. But they who fall and perish have never been in the number of the predestinated.”

7. “Consider if in such a way any other result be gained than that the grace of God is given in some way or other, according to our merit, and so grace is no more grace.”

8. “It is [foreign to] the truth to deny that perseverance even to the end of this life is the gift of God; since He Himself puts an end to this life when He wills, and if He puts an end before a fall that is threatening, He makes the man to persevere even unto the end.”  

9. "When Christ intercedes, therefore, on behalf of these, that their faith should not fail, doubtless it will not fail unto the end.”

10. “To the saints predestinated to the kingdom of God by God’s grace, the aid of perseverance that is given is not such as the former, but such that to them perseverance itself is bestowed; not only so that without that gift they cannot persevere, but, moreover, so that by means of this gift they cannot help persevering.”

9 comments:

Joshua Barnett said...

Hey nice Blog. Not even sure how I stumbled upon it. keep it up brother.

Ryan said...

Thanks.

Steve Finnell said...

CRYING WOLF
Is God just "crying wolf" when He warns Christians of falling away or mentions those who have departed from the faith?


The doctrine "Perseverance of the Saints" states that God grants eternal security for all those He has unconditionally selected and saved. IS THAT FACT OR FICTION?


Acts 20:28-30 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.


Was God using the apostle Paul to "cry wolf" even though there was no danger to the church?


Galatians 5:4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.


Was the declaration by Paul, to those Christians who were trying to be justified by the law, just an other example of God "crying wolf" through the apostle Paul?


1 Corinthians 9:27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.


If "once saved always saved" is God's doctrine; then how could Paul be disqualified? Was Paul just "crying wolf" as some might proclaim?


Hebrews 6:4-6 For in the case of those who have once been enlighten and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the power of the age to come, 6 and when then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.


Why would God warn of the possibility of apostasy if all Christians were guaranteed eternal security? Was God just "crying wolf" one more time?


Revelation 3:1-5 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write......4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life....


Jesus sent this message to the church. Note: Jesus said only a few had not soiled their garments. Jesus makes it clear that church members can have their names erased from the book of life. Was Jesus just "crying wolf?"


GOD CANNOT LIE!
Titus 1:2 in the hope of eternal life , which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,


IS "CRYING WOLF" A LIE?


God promised eternal life, He did not promise Christians; that they could never fall from grace.


"CRYING WOLF" IS NOT AN ACT OF GOD!

YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. Google search>>> steve finnell a christian view

Ryan said...

Please don't repost your blog articles in my comment section. They aren't that good. The one you pasted, for instance, doesn't even mention that many warnings were written to Christians whose congregations were a mix of true and nominal believers.

Is God crying wolf when He says that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion? Is God crying wolf when He says that nothing can separate His sheep from His love? Two can play at your surface level exegetical game.

Rev. J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Viewed historically and polemically, and in lieu of the fact that he could only read the bible in Latin, Augustine's (albeit, semi-Gnostic and largely unorthodox) soteriology made sense, whereas later editions (e.g., Calvin's hyper-rationalization, theological revisionism, and latent Gnosticism), birthed actual heterodoxy (i.e., the denial of salvation to anyone but the elect and the doctrine of double predestination).

Ryan said...

It would have been helpful if you had also posted why you thought that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ryan for helping me understand Saint Augustine's works! You've done a great job. ;)

Ryan said...

You're welcome.