A Brief “Bonus” Summary from Books At a Glance
By Todd Scacewater
My dear sons, Timasius and James, I read the book you sent me quickly and found in it a man aflame with zeal against those who ought to blame the human will for sins, but try to excuse themselves by blaming human nature instead. He has argued fervently, but unfortunately has “zeal for God, but not in accord with knowledge” (Rom 10:2), for he wants to establish righteousness by nature, not by grace. But if righteousness comes by nature, so that some may achieve it without hearing the gospel, then “Christ has died in vain” (Gal 2:21).
Human nature was indeed blameless without any defect in the beginning, but nature now needs a physician. It has all its constitution from God, but the defect which darkens and weakens those natural goods did not come from God; rather, the defect came from original sin. Now by nature we are “children of anger” (Eph 2:3), but in Christ we are a new creature. The grace we receive in Christ is not based on our merits, but is a free gift. Those who do not receive the bath of regeneration do not receive this grace and are therefore still condemned by either that which they contracted from original sin or that which they have added to it by their evil lives. All, after all, have sinned (whether in Adam or in their own persons” and lack the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Those who suffer condemnation therefore suffer it justly.
The man who wrote this book is burning with zeal, but not for the cross of Christ. Perhaps, though, he is simply mistaken, and I want his zeal to be combined with knowledge. Let us then look at what he teaches. He first makes a distinction between whether something is possible or is. This distinction is proper, but he tries to use it to say that, even if there are no sinless people, there could be. He brushes off passages that say that all sin (Job 14:4; 1 Kings 8:46; Eccl 7:21; Ps 14:1–3) by saying this refers to what is, not to what can be.
He then says that infants who die without baptism “are not condemned, because the statement that all have sinned in Adam was not uttered on account of a sin contracted by reason of their origin through being born, but on account of the imitation of Adam’s sin.” But this view would open the kingdom of heaven to those who have not been regenerated by baptism, as the Lord required (John 3:5).
He then raises some objections. One might say that one can be righteous with the grace of God, and Pelagius notes that this grants that one may be righteous. One might also say that he denies the grace of God because he does not mention it, but Pelagius responds that he admits the condition of righteousness, and a condition cannot exist without the means. He is being slippery, for he does not hold himself that one may become righteous only by the grace of God, but he implies that he does. But then I read that he said “Whether it is by grace of by a help or by mercy or whatever it is by which a human being can be without sin, whoever admits the reality also admits the means to it as well,” I rejoiced because he seemed not to deny the grace of God as the only means by which a person may be justified. But as I read on, I learned better.[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
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ON NATURE AND GRACE, by St. Augustine