Augustine’s Preface to Confessions

Truer words have never been spoken:

Which of my shorter works has been more widely known or given greater pleasure than the [thirteen] books of my Confessions? And, although I published them long before the Pelagian heresy had even begun to be, it is plain that in them I said to my God, again and again, “Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.” When these words of mine were repeated in Pelagius’ presence at Rome by a certain brother of mine (an episcopal colleague), he could not bear them and contradicted him so excitedly that they nearly came to a quarrel. Now what, indeed, does God command, first and foremost, except that we believe in him? This faith, therefore, he himself gives; so that it is well said to him, “Give what thou commandest.” Moreover, in those same books, concerning my account of my conversion when God turned me to that faith which I was laying waste with a very wretched and wild verbal assault, do you not remember how the narration shows that I was given as a gift to the faithful and daily tears of my mother, who had been promised that I should not perish?

by Augustine: Confessions,
newly translated and edited by Outler, A. C.

Pelagian heresy has come in various myriad and forms… the most common are expressed as follows:

Pelagianism: The belief that original sin did not taint human nature (which, being created from God, was divine), and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without Divine aid.

Semi-Pelagianism: Derived from the earlier Pelagian teaching about salvation and teaches that it is necessary for humans to make the first step toward God and then God will complete salvation.

It was interesting to note that the Christian Church (before Roman Catholicism) through various councils considered these as heresy at their time. Of course not all of Augustine’s teaching was accepted too, but his doctrines of grace was, since it was proved to be biblical and God glorifying.

Found this interesting. Actually doing some reading for another set of questions, but nevertheless found that this was a relevant line of thought that forms the basis of many other doctrines.

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2 thoughts on “Augustine’s Preface to Confessions

  1. Man was created in the image of God. What aspects of God’s being would this encapsulate? Does it not mean that man today still has a intelligent, emotions and even a will? We contrast it to the fact that God did not create animals in the image of God. We are creatures with volition and God holds us responsible for the decisions we make.

    We affirm that all man is totally tainted by sin. This verdict is supported not merely by scriptural authority but by practical personal experience (thus refuting the Pelagian position). Also, we must certainly deny as utter folly to imagine that man must or can make the first step toward God (as you’ve cited the semi-pelag position). Totally left to his own self-schemes and desires, man would not seek after God. That is the natural bent of the heart. Thankfully, God has not left mankind alone to wallow in the mire of sin. He has placed eternity inside our hearts, and given everyman the light of conscience, even the testimony of nature in all it’s grandeur and beauty so much so that man has is left inexcusable. In the NT, we find that Holy Spirit’s ministry is to the world. I quote John 16:8-10 ” And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more”. Clearly there are those who will believe and those who won’t, but the Holy Spirit’s ministry is for all. It is to the world.

    With the consistent testimony of scripture, we know that as for God, in Him is no injustice or partiality. Also, God will not save a man apart from a man’s willingness to submit to God’s verdict that he is a sinner in need of a divine grace and mercy. He has offered the gift of salvation through the gospel to all. Joyfully, we exclaim that salvation is all of God and none of man, as most assuredly “Salvation belongs to our God”. It it had anything to do with man’s ability, we would all be in ruin. Nothing can a man do to deserve him the right for the gift, it is all of divine grace. Therefore, God has made the first move and He continues to speak to man through the workings of the Spirit, through the light of their conscience and even in events that He sovereignly purposes to bring into their lives. But as it has always been with a gift, we are free to receive or … (sadly many will) reject it.

    God is glorified when men turn to Him in simple believing faith (faith is the very opposite of works). Faith/belief is essential to the whole equation. And God calls all man to believe and simply believe in the gospel to be saved.

  2. “Clearly there are those who will believe and those who won’t, but the Holy Spirit’s ministry is for all. It is to the world. ” – A very generalised statement that is based purely on verses that are not put within the right framework of scripture. Does not even hold within the context of John 15 and 16. The emphasis is on the evangelistic convictions from the apostles/disciples (minus Judas as he had left the meeting then) to the world (wider group of people that were around them). You trip yourself when you absolutise the word “world” to have only ONE meaning consistenly throughout the book (exegetical fallacy). It is more faithful to interpret the word within the context and place it within the cohesive framework of the bible in order not to cancel out other teachings. (There are 58 ‘world’ usages in John; John 12:19, 47, 14:17… and more, it is not possible to say that all are of the same usage. To do so is wrong)

    “Also, God will not save a man apart from a man’s willingness to submit to God’s verdict that he is a sinner in need of a divine grace and mercy. He has offered the gift of salvation through the gospel to all…” – it sounds as though that man is thus able to be willing, when his will is corrupt and is not able to muster any strength in choice, which was exactly what Augustine, Luther and Calvin speak against. Instead, the willingness of man is given by God, thus man is willing to submit because the Spirit breathes in the new life. Where God saves, man is made willing, that is true.

    “But as it has always been with a gift, we are free to receive or … (sadly many will) reject it.” – the offer of salvation is freely given, but salvation is not a gift that you can choose. A man with physical ailments (crippled, lame & withered hands, demon-possessed) are not able to obey God if God has not enabled the person to do so. The centurion knew this, and was commended (Matt 8:9-10) for having the ‘best’ faith in Israel.

    What your statement amounts to is closer to what is defined as Semi-Pelagianism. The basic is thus, except that you try to put disclaimers on God’s sovereignty and grace to make it sound more ‘nice’. Grace has to be 100% God and 0% man, yet man is 100% responsible for their sin and 0% God. It is not possible to hem ‘will’ into a discernable thing of outward experience as the heart is not discernable to man (Jer 17:9, 1 Kings 8:39). Trying to combine the ‘will’s experience (how humans experience it) with how God teaches it, is like trying to understand Andy Warhol with a potato stamp.

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