Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saint Augustine on Election

 It is being taught that God in eternity knew who would open themselves to the gospel and who would refuse, and based on this "foreknowledge" He predestinated to life those who would so receive Christ. This is a great error as Augustine here explains, teaching from Scripture that the Elect are chosen not based on any foreknown self-merit, but only upon the will of God Who both has mercy and hardens whom He will based only upon His own inscrutable will. St. Augustine wrote:

"First I shall try to grasp the apostle's purpose which runs through the whole Epistle, and I shall seek guidance from it. It is that no man should glory in meritorious works, in which the Israelites dared to glory, alleging that they had served the law that had been given to them, and that for that reason they had received evangelical grace as due to their merits. The Jews did not understand that evangelical grace, just because of its very nature, is not given as a due reward for good works. Otherwise grace is not grace. In many passages the apostle frequently bears witness to this, putting the grace of faith before works; not indeed that he wants to put an end to good works, but to show that works do not precede grace but follow from it.

"This is the truth the apostle wanted to urge; just as in another passage he says, "By the grace of God we are saved, and that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God. It is not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8,9). And so he gave a proof from the case of those who had not yet been born. That means that those are to belong to the lot of the saints in Christ who know that they are the sons of promise; who do not wax proud of their merits, but account themselves co-heirs with Christ by the grace of their calling. When the promise was made that they should be this they did not as yet exist and so could have merited nothing. 'Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac...' He is most careful to note that it was by one act of coition that twins were conceived so that nothing could be attributed to the merits of the father, as if someone might say the son was born such as he was because his father had such or such a disposition when he lay with his wife; or that his mother was disposed in such a way when she conceived a son. Both were begotten and conceived at one and the same time. 'For the children being not yet born and having done nothing either good or evil, not of works but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger.' Grace is therefore of him who calls, and the consequent good works are of him who received grace. Good works do not produce grace but are produced by grace.

"Clearly it was not of works but of him that calleth. But here we must inquire why he says, 'That the purpose of God according to election might stand.' How can election be just, indeed how can there be any kind of election, where there is no difference? if Jacob was elected before he was born and before he had done anything at all, for no merit of his own, he could not have been elected at all, there being nothing to distinguish him for election. If Esau was rejected for no fault of his own because he too was not born and had done nothing when it was said, 'The elder shall serve the younger,' how can his rejection be said to be just? How are we to understand what follows if we judge according to the standards of equity? 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.' But how could there be election, or what kind of election could there be, if there was no distinction of merits because they were not yet born and had done nothing?  Possibly there was some distinction in their natures? Who could support such a conclusion, seeing that they sprang from one father, and one mother, one act of intercourse, one creator?

"Could it be 'according to election' because God has foreknowledge of all things, and foresaw the faith that was to be in Jacob even before he was born? No one merits justification by his good works, since unless he is justified he cannot do good works. If election is by foreknowledge, and God foreknew Jacob's faith, how do you prove that he did not elect him for his works? If the reason for its not being of works was that they were not yet born, that applies also to faith; for before they were born they had neither faith nor works. The apostle, therefore, did not want us to understand that it was because of God's foreknowledge that the younger was elected to be served by the elder. We have still to inquire why that election was made. What, then, was the reason for it?

"Are we to say that there could have been no election unless there had been, even when they were in their mother's womb, some difference of faith or works, or merit of some kind? But the apostle says, 'That the purpose of God according to election might stand.' That is why we have to ask the question. There could be no election on account of good works, according to which the purpose of God might stand. So, 'not of works but of him that calleth,' that is, of God who justifies the ungodly by grace calling him to faith, 'it was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger.' So that the purpose of God does not stand according to election, but election is the result of the purpose of God. It is written that 'God elected us before the foundation of the world.' (Eph. 1:4). I do not see how that could be except by the way of foreknowledge. But here, when he says 'Not of works but of him that calleth,' he wants us to understand that it is not by election through merits, but by the free gift of God, so that no man may exult in his good works. 'By the grace of God are we saved; and that not of ourselves; for it is the gift of God, not of works that no man should glory' (Eph. 2:8).

"But the question is whether faith merits a man's justification, whether the merits of faith do not precede the mercy of God; or whether, in fact, faith itself is to be numbered among the gifts of grace. Notice that in this passage when he said, 'Not of works,' he did not say, 'but of faith it was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger.' No, he said, 'but of him that calleth.' No one believes who is not called. God calls in his mercy, and not as rewarding the merits of faith. The merits of faith follow his calling rather than precede it. So grace comes before all merits. Christ died for the ungodly. The younger received the promise that the elder should serve him from him that calleth and not from any meritorious works of his own. So the Scripture 'Jacob have I loved' is true, but it was of God who called and not of Jacob's righteous works.

"What then of Esau, of whom it is written that 'he shall serve the younger,' and 'Esau have I hated.' How could he have merited this by evil deeds of his own doing, since these things were spoken before he was born, and before he had done aught of good or evil? Possibly, just as Jacob received the promise without any meritorious acts of his own, so Esau was hated though he had done no evil to merit hatred. If God predestined Esau to serve his younger brother because he foreknew the evil works that he was to do, he must also have predestined Jacob to be served by his elder brother because he foreknow his future good works. In that case it would be false to say that it was not of works. If it is true that it was not of works - and that is proved by the fact that it was said before they were born and before they had done any works at all - or of faith - for again, similarly, there could be no faith in children not yet born - how did Esau deserve to be hated before he was born?

"The apostle saw the questions that might arise in the mind of the hearer or reader of these words, and so he immediately added, 'What shall we say, then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.' And as if to teach us how there is no unrighteousness, he goes on, 'For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show compassion to him on whom I will have compassion.' Does he solve the question in these words or at least narrow it down? If God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and show compassion to whom he will show compassion, our chief difficulty remains, which is, why did his mercy fail in Esau's case? Why was not Esau too made good by God's mercy as Jacob was made good? Perhaps the real import of the words is this. If God will have mercy on a man so as to call him, he will also have mercy on him so that he may believe; and on him on whom he in mercy bestows faith he will show compassion, i.e., will make him compassionate, so that he may also perform good works. So we are admonished that no one ought to glory or exult in his works of mercy as if he had propitiated God by meritorious works of his own. If anyone boasts that he has merited compassion by his faith, let him know that God gave him faith. "What hast thou that thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it (I Cor. 4:7)?

"This is all right, but why was this mercy withheld from Esau, so that he was not called and had not faith inspired in him when called, and was not by faith made compassionate so that he might do good works? Was it because he was unwilling? If Jacob had faith because he willed it, then God did not give him faith as a free gift, but Jacob gave it to himself, and so had something which he did not receive. But Esau was not yet born and consequently could be neither willing nor unwilling in all these matters. Why was he rejected when he was still in the womb?

"If you pay close attention to these words, 'Therefore it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy,' you will see that the apostle said that, not only because we attain what we wish by the help of God, but also with the meaning which he expresses in another passage, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure' (Phil. 2:12,13). There he clearly shows that the good will itself is wrought in us by the working of God. If he said, 'It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy,' simply because a man's will is not sufficient for us to live justly and righteously unless we are aided by the mercy of God, he could have put it the other way round and said, 'It is not of God that hath mercy, but of the man that willeth,' because it is equally true that the mercy of God is not sufficient of itself, unless there be in addition the consent of our will. Clearly it is vain for us to will unless God have mercy. But I do not know how it could be said that it is vain for God to have mercy unless we willingly consent.

"But if that calling is the effectual cause of the good will so that every one who is called follows it, how will it be true that 'Many are called but few are chosen'? If this is true, and consequently not everyone who is called obeys the call, but has it in the power of his will not to obey, it could be said correctly that it is not of God who hath mercy, but of the man who willeth and runneth, for the mercy of him that calleth is not sufficient unless the obedience of him who is called follows. The call comes also to others but because it is such that they cannot be moved by it and are not fitted to receive it, they can be said to be called but not chosen. For the effectiveness of God's mercy cannot be in the power of man to frustrate, if he will have none of it. If God wills to have mercy on men, he can call them in a way that is suited to them, so that they will be moved to understand and to follow. It is true, therefore, that many are called but few chosen. Those are chosen who are effectually [congruenter] called. Those who are not effectually called and do not obey their calling are not chosen, for although they were called they did not follow. Again it is true that 'it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.' for, although he calls many, he has mercy on those whom he calls in a way suited to them so that they may follow. But it is false to say that 'it is not of God who hath mercy but of man who willeth and runneth,' because God has mercy on no man in vain. He calls the man on whom he has mercy in the way he knows will suit him, so that he will not refuse the call.

"Here someone will say, why was not Esau called in such a way that he would be willing to obey? But if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind's aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Ominpotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?

"But why do we ask such a question? The apostle himself goes on. 'The Scripture saith unto Pharoah, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth.' The apostle adds this as an example to prove what he had said above, that 'it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.' Thus he shows that it is not of him that willeth but of God that hath mercy. And he concludes with these words: 'So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth.'

"The apostle said a little before, 'What shall we say, then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.' Let this truth, then, be fixed and unmovable in a mind soberly pious and stable in faith, that there is no unrighteousness with God. Let us also believe most firmly and tenaciously that God has mercy on whom he will and that whom he will he hardeneth, that is, he has or has not mercy on whom he will. Let us believe that this belongs to a certain hidden equity that cannot be searched out by any human standard of measurement, though its effects are to be observed in human affairs and earthly arrangements. Unless we had stamped upon these human affairs certain traces of supernal justice our weak minds would never look up to or long for the holy and pure ground and source of spiritual precepts. 'Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.' No one can be charged with unrighteousness who exacts what is owing to him. Nor certainly can he be charged with unrighteousness who is prepared to give up what is owing to him. This decision does not lie with those who are debtors but with the creditor. Now all men are a mass of sin, since, as the apostle says, 'In Adam all die' (I Cor. 15:22), and to Adam the entire human race traces the origin of its sin against God. Sinful humanity must pay a debt of punishment to the supreme divine justice. Whether that debt is exacted or remitted there is no unrighteousness. So the apostle represses the impudent questioner. 'O man, who art thou that repliest against God?' A man so speaks back to God when he is displeased that God finds fault with sinners, as if God compelled any man to sin when he simply does not bestow his justifying mercy on some sinners, and for that reason is said to harden some sinners; not because he drives them to sin but because he does not have mercy upon them. He decides who are not to be offered mercy by a standard of equity which is most secret and far removed from human powers of understanding. 'Inscrutable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out' (Rom. 11:33).

"To be sure, no one resists his will. He aids whom he will and he leaves whom he will. Both he who is aided and he who is left belong to the same mass of sin. Both deserve the punishment which is exacted from the one and remitted to the other. So the apostle continues in our present passage. 'O man who art thou that repliest against God? Does the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?'

"From Adam has sprung one mass of sinners and godless men, in which both Jews and Gentiles belong to one lump, apart from the grace of God. If the potter out of one lump of clay makes one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour, it is manifest that God has made of the Jews some vessels unto honour and others unto dishonour, and similarly of the Gentiles. It follows that all must be understood to belong to one lump. 'If,' he says, 'the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.' The multitude of the others are vessels fitted for destruction. 'Even so then at this present time a remnant is saved by the election of grace. But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. What then? That which Israel sought he did not obtain; but the election obtained it, and the rest were blinded' (Rom. 11:5 ff.). The vessels of mercy obtained it and the vessels of wrath were blinded. Yet all were of the same lump as in the fulness of the Gentiles.

The apostle, therefore, and all those who have been justified and have demonstrated for us the understanding of grace, have no other intention than to show that he that glories should glory in the Lord. Who will call in question the works of the Lord who out of one lump damns one and justifies another? We are bidden to ask that we may receive, to seek that we may find, and to knock that it may be opened unto us. Is not our prayer sometimes tepid or rather cold? Does it not sometimes cease altogether, so that we are not even grieved to notice this condition in us. For if we are grieved that it should be so, that is already a prayer. What does this prove except that he who commands us to ask, seek and knock, himself gives us the will to obey? 'It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.' We could neither will nor run unless he stirred us and put the motive-power in us.

If by the words 'a remnant according to thet election of grace' we are to understand not election of the justified to eternal life, but election of those who are to be justified, that kind of election is verily hidden, and cannot be known by us who must regard all men as parts of one lump. Only let us believe if we cannot grasp it, that he who made and fashioned the whole creation, spiritual and corporeal, disposes of all things by number, weight and measure. But his judgments are inscrutable and his ways past finding out. Let us say Halleluia and praise him together in song; and let us not say, What is this? or, Why is that? All things have been created each in its own time."

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