Augustine (354-430) on why God makes sheep of some, and not others

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“But wherefore does God make these men sheep, and those not, since with Him there is no acceptance of persons? This is the very question which the blessed apostle thus answers to those who propose it with more curiosity than propriety, “O man, who are you that repliest against God? Does the thing formed say to him that formed it, Wherefore have you made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). This is the very question which belongs to that depth desiring to look into which the same apostle was in a certain measure terrified, and exclaimed, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor? Or who has first given to Him, that it should be recompensed to Him again? Because of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory for ages of ages.” Let them not, then, dare to pry into that unsearchable question who defend merit before grace, and therefore even against grace, and wish first to give unto God, that it may be given to them again—first, of course, to give something of free will, that grace may be given them again as a reward; and let them wisely understand or faithfully believe that even what they think that they have first given, they have received from Him, from whom are all things, by whom are all things, in whom are all things. But why this man should receive, and that should not receive, when neither of them deserves to receive, and whichever of them receives, receives undeservingly,— let them measure their own strength, and not search into things too strong for them. Let it suffice them to know that there is no unrighteousness with God. For when the apostle could find no merits for which Jacob should take precedence of his twin-brother with God, he said, “What, then, shall we say? Is there unrighteousness with God? Away with the thought! For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion. Therefore it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.” Let, therefore, His free compassion be grateful to us, even although this profound question be still unsolved; which, nevertheless, is so far solved as the same apostle solves it, saying, “But if God, willing to show His wrath, and to demonstrate His power, endured in much patience the vessels of wrath which are fitted to destruction; and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He has prepared for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). Certainly wrath is not repaid unless it is due, lest there be unrighteousness with God; but mercy, even when it is bestowed, and not due, is not unrighteousness with God. And hence, let the vessels of mercy understand how freely mercy is afforded to them, because to the vessels of wrath with whom they have common cause and measure of perdition, is repaid wrath, righteous and due. This is now enough in opposition to those who, by freedom of will, desire to destroy the liberality of grace.”

– Augustine (354-430), Against Two Letters of the Pelagians (Contra duas epistulas Pelagianorum), IV.16

2 thoughts on “Augustine (354-430) on why God makes sheep of some, and not others

  1. You need to fix the “share” button so this can be immediately shared with FB rather than merely liked. Regards.

  2. I just, today, started reading Augustine’s “City of God” – a mammoth undertaking, but I’m looking forward to it (it’s the late Henry Bettenson’s 1972 translation in Penguin Classics). My favorite translation of his “Confessions,” by the way, is Henry Chadwick’s from 1991 (also a Penguin Classic).

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