The Mystery of Free Grace

What falsehood about free will are you setting before me?  Your will is never going to be free to do righteousness unless you are one of the Lord’s sheep.  He Who makes His people into sheep liberates their wills for godly obedience.  But why does God make some people into His sheep and not others, since there is no favouritism with Him?  This is the very question the blessed apostle Paul answers to those who ask it more curiously than correctly: “Indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?  Will the thing formed say to Him Who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?'” (Rom. 9:20).  This is the very question belonging to that “depth” which, in a sense, terrified that same apostle when he desired to look into it, causing him to exclaim, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” (Rom 11:33-36).  Let the Pelagians not dare to pry into that unsearchable question – these men who defend human goodness before grace, and therefore against grace, and want to give something first to Godby their own free will so that it will be repaid them as a reward.  Let them wisely understand, or faithfully believe, that even what they think they have first given, they have actually received from Him from Whom all things exist, by Whom all things exist, in Whom all things exist.

But as to why this person should receive, and that person not receive, when neither of them deserve to receive, and whichever of them receives does so undeservedly – let the Pelagians measure their own strength and not search into things too strong for them.  Let it be enough to know that there is no unrighteousness with God.  For when Paul could find no worthy qualities in Jacob which could have made God prefer him over his twin brother, he said: “What shall we say, then?  Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ So then, it is not of him who wills. nor of him who runs, but of God Who shows mercy” (Rom 9:14-16).  Therefore let us be thankful for His free compassion, even though we find no answer to this profound question.

Yet the same apostle does give an answer, as far as one can be given, when he says: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?” (Rom 9:22-23).  Now, wrath is clearly not repaid unless it is deserved – otherwise there would indeed be “unrighteousness with God”.  But when undeserved mercy is bestowed, that cannot be called “unrighteousness with God”.  So let the vessels of mercy understand how freely mercy is provided for them, since they share a common reason for destruction with the vessels of wrath to whom righteous and deserved wrath is repaid.  And with this, I have siad enough in opposition to those who, by the freedom of the will, desire to destroy the freeness of grace.

Augustine (354-430), Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, IV.14-16 in N.R. Needham, The Triumph of Grace213-14.

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Filed under Bible, Christian Thinking, Church History, Early Church Fathers, Free Will, God, Grace, Predestination, Regeneration, Romans, Soli Gratia, Soteriology, Sovereign Grace, Sovereignty, Theology, Will of God

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