Calling attention to the truth as set forth by Augustine in connection with the doctrine of sin, we would make two preliminary observations. First of all, we have already called attention to the life of this church father, to his walk in sin and in immorality and his calling out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Pelagius did not experience this mighty transformation by the grace of God. It does not surprise us, therefore, that Augustine, in harmony with this transformation out of darkness into the Lord’s marvelous light, entertains a deep and profound conception of sin and of the grace of God. This is to be expected. And, secondly, the late Rev. H. Hoeksema writes in his notes on the history of doctrine, that Augustine is also noted for his conception of God’s sovereign predestination. To this we will call attention later. But also this lies in the very nature of the case. The truths of utter and total depravity and of God’s sovereign predestination are inseparably connected and related. If the sinner be not totally depraved, is able of himself to choose the good and to accept the gospel—and the Arminian always presents the gospel as an offer of salvation—then he plays a decisive part and role in his salvation, and God is not sovereign. But if the sinner be wholly dead in sins and in trespasses, is unable to do any good, to do anything in his own behalf, then the power that saves him, from the beginning even to the end, is always the Lord’s. And then it also must follow that the Lord, Who alone begins and finishes this work of salvation, begins and finishes it in whomsoever He pleases to save. Complete and total depravity and the Lord’s sovereign predestination are always inseparably connected and related.
Introducing this subject (the Augustinian System), Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, 816-817, writes as follows:
Augustine (354-430) had already in his Confessions, in the year 400, ten years before the commencement of the Pelagian controversy, set forth his deep and rich experience of human sin and divine grace. This classical autobiography, which every theological student should read, is of universal application, and in it every Christian may bewail his own wanderings, despair of himself, throw himself unconditionally into the arms of God, and lay hold upon unmerited grace. Augustine had in his own life passed through all the earlier stages of the history of the church, and had overcome in theory and in practice the heresy of Manichaeism, before its opposite, Pelagianism , appeared. By his theological refutation of this latter heresy, and by his clear development of the Biblical anthropology, he has won the noblest and most lasting renown. As in the events recorded in his Confessions he gives views of the evangelical doctrines of sin and of grace, so in the doctrines of his anti-Pelagian writings he sets forth his personal experience. He teaches nothing which he had not felt. In him the philosopher and the living Christian are everywhere fused. His loftiest metaphysical speculation passes unconsciously into adoration. The living aroma of personal experience imparts to his views a double interest, and an irresistible attraction for all earnest minds.
Yet his system was not always precisely the same; it became perfect only through personal conflict and practical tests. Many of his earlier views—e.g., respecting the freedom of choice, and respecting faith as a work of man—he himself abandoned in his Retractations; and hence he is by no means to be taken as an infallible guide. He holds, moreover, the evangelical doctrines of sin and grace not in the Protestant sense, but, like his faithful disciples, the Jansenists, in connection with the sacramental and strict churchly system of Catholicism; he taught the necessity of baptismal regeneration and the damnation of all unbaptized children, and identified justification in substance with sanctification, though he made sanctification throughout a work of free grace, and not of human merit (we must bear in mind that when we read here of Catholicism, this does not mean Catholicism in the Roman Catholic sense of the word—H.V.). It remains the exclusive prerogative of the inspired apostles to stand above the circumstances of their time, and never, in combating one error, to fall into its opposite. Nevertheless, Augustine is the brightest star in the constellation of the church fathers, and diffuses his light through the darkest periods of the middle ages, and among Catholics and Protestants alike, even to this day.
His anthropology may be exhibited under the three stages of the religious development of mankind, the status integritatis, the status corruptionis, and the status redemptionis, the states of integrity, corruption and of redemption.
THE PRIMITIVE STATE OF MAN
First of all, in distinction from the Pelagian conception, Augustine’s conception of paradise is vastly higher and involves a far deeper fall and a far more glorious manifestation of redeeming grace. According to Philip Schaff, the first state of man resembles the state of the blessed in heaven, though it differs from that final state as the undeveloped germ from the perfect fruit. He, Schaff, expresses this as follows:
According to Augustine, man came from the hand of his Maker, his genuine masterpiece, without the slightest fault. He possessed freedom, to do good; reason, to know God; and the grace of God. But by this grace Augustine (not happy in the choice of his term) means only the general supernatural assistance indispensable to a creature, that he may persevere in good. The relation of man to God was that of joyful and perfect obedience. The relation of the body to the soul was the same. The flesh did not yet lust against the spirit; both were in perfect harmony, and the flesh was wholly subject to the spirit. “Tempted and assailed (of himself by no strife against) himself, Adam enjoyed in that place the blessedness of peace with himself.” To this inward state, the outward corresponded. The paradise was not only spiritual, but also visible and material, without heat or cold, without weariness or excitement, without sickness, pains, or defects of any kind.
However, according to Schaff, Augustine’s conception of the original paradise was that it was only relatively perfect, perfect in its kind. He writes:
It was perfect as a child may be a perfect child, while he is destined to become a man; or as the seed fulfils its idea as seed, though it has yet to become a tree. God alone is immutable and absolutely good; man is subject to development in time, and therefore to change. The primal gifts were bestowed on man simply as powers, to be developed in either one of two ways. Adam could go straight forward, develop himself harmoniously in untroubled unity with God, and thus gradually attain his final perfection; or he could fall away, engender evil by abuse of his free will, and develop himself through discords and contradictions. It was graciously made possible (to this expression, “graciously made possible,” we would object—H.V.) that his mind should become incapable of error, his will, of sin, his body, of death; and by a normal growth this possibility would have become actual. But this was mere possibility, involving, in the nature of the case, the opposite possibility of error, sin, and death (hence, according to Augustine, Adam’s creation was of such a nature that it also involved the possibility of error, sin and death—H.V.).
Also, according to Schaff, Augustine makes the important distinction between the possibility of not sinning and the impossibility of sinning. Concerning this he writes as follows:
The former (the possibility of not sinning—H.V.) is conditional or potential freedom from sin, which may turn into its opposite, the bondage of sin. This belonged to man before the fall. The latter is the absolute freedom from sin or the perfected holiness, which belongs to God, to the holy angels who have acceptably passed their probation, and to the redeemed saints in heaven.
In like manner he distinguishes between absolute and relative immortality. The former is the impossibility of dying, founded upon the impossibility of sinning; an attribute of God and of the saints after the resurrection. The latter is the bare pre-conformation for immortality, and implies the opposite possibility of death. This was the immortality of Adam before the fall, and if he had persevered, it would have passed into the impossibility of dying; but it was lost by sin. (this is an interesting statement. Augustine speaks of an absolute immortality, although he also speaks of a relative immortality. We believe that immortality is not simply to be confused with an endless existence, but that it belongs to the life of the resurrection. Augustine seems to have taught this also—H.V.).
FREEDOM, also, Augustine holds to be an original endowment of man; but he distinguishes different kinds of it, and different degrees of its development, which we must observe, or we should charge him with self-contradiction.
By freedom Augustine understands, in the first place, simply spontaneity or self-activity, as opposed to action under external constraint or from animal instinct. Both sin and holiness are voluntary, that is, acts of the will, not motions of natural necessity. This freedom belongs at all times and essentially to the human will, even in the sinful state (in which the will is, strictly speaking, self-willed); it is the necessary condition of guilt and punishment, of merit and reward. In this view no thinking man can deny freedom, without destroying the responsibility and the moral nature of man. An involuntary will is as bald a self-contradiction as an unintelligent intelligence.
A second form of freedom is the liberum aubitrium, of freedom of choice. Like Pelagius he ascribes freedom of choice to the first man before the fall. God created man with the double capacity of sinning or not sinning, forbidding the former and commanding the latter. But Augustine differs from Pelagius in viewing Adam not as poised in entire indifference between good and evil, obedience and disobedience, but as having a positive constitutional tendency to the good, yet involving, at the same time, a possibility of sinning. Besides, Augustine, in the interest of grace and of true freedom, disparages the freedom of choice, and limits it to the beginning, the transient state of probation. This relative indecision cannot be at all predicated of God or the angels, of the saints or of sinners. (Pelagius, we know, teaches that the sinner retains this freedom of choice; he is inherently good and can choose the good. Augustine, however, maintains that this freedom of choice applies only to Adam before his fall; since his fall, man no longer has this freedom of choice, to be able to choose the good—H.V.).