Hagenbach, writing on the opinions of the Latin theologians, during this period, and before Augustine, writes as follows:
During this period, as well as the preceding, the theologians of the Western church were more favorable than those of the Eastern, to the Augustinian doctrine. Even Arnobius speaks of a connatural infirmity, making man prone to sin. Hilary, and Ambrose of Milan, taught the defilement of sin by birth; Ambrose appealed especially to
in support of original sin, but without determining to what extent every individual shares in the common guilt. Nevertheless, neither of them excluded the liberty of man from the work of moral reformation. Even Augustine himself, at an earlier period of his life, defended human freedom in opposition to the Manicheans.
Augustine, in opposition to the Manicheans, particularly in disputation with the Manichean, Fortunatus, declares concerning the free will of man (ch. 22) the following:
I recognize and embrace the testimonies of the divine Scriptures, and I will show in a few words, as God may deign to grant, how they are consistent with my faith. I say that there was free exercise of will in that man who was first formed. He was so made that absolutely nothing could resist his will, if he had willed to keep the precepts of God. But after he voluntarily sinned, we who have descended from his stock were plunged into necessity. But each one of us can by a little consideration find that what I say is true. For today in our actions before we are implicated by any habit, we have free choice of doing anything or not doing it. But when by that liberty we have done something and the pernicious sweetness and pleasure of that deed has taken hold upon the mind, by its own habit the mind is so implicated that afterwards it cannot conquer what by sinning it has fashioned for itself….Let us take two men, a good and a bad. As long as he is good he cannot yield good fruit. But that you may know that those two trees are so placed by the Lord, that free choice may be there signified, that these two trees are not natures but our wills, He Himself says in the gospel: “Either make the tree good, or make the tree evil.” Who is it that can make nature? If therefore we are commanded to make a tree either good or evil, it is ours to choose what we will.
Augustine, in this quotation, appears to teach the freedom of the will. Of course, there is surely a certain freedom of the will. The will of the sinner is certainly free in its sinning. The sinner is not compelled, forced to sin. He sins willingly, voluntarily. He sins because he wills to sin. Man is not a stock and block. He is morally free. However, this is not the same as what we read in this quotation. We read, for example, the following: “But each one of us can by a little consideration find that what I say is true. . . ..If therefore we are commanded to make a tree either good or evil, it is ours to choose what we will.” Later, in his controversy with Pelagius, Augustine taught the absolute bondage of the will, that the will of the natural man is wholly in the service of sin.
At this time, we wish to quote from the “History of the Christian Church,” by Philip Schaff, in which this author draws a comparison between Pelagius and Augustine. We believe this quotation to be very interesting. In Volume III, 786 ff., he writes the following:
Pelagius and Augustine, in whom these opposite forms of monergism were embodied are represented men, even more strictly than Arius and Athanasius before them, or Nestorius and Cyril after them. The one, a Briton, more than once convulsed the world by his errors; the other, an African, more than once by his truths. They represented principles and tendencies, which, in various modifications, extend through the whole history of the church, and reappear in its successive epochs. The Gottschalk controversy in the ninth century, the Reformation, the synergistic controversy in the Lutheran church, the Arminian in the Reformed, and the. Jansenistic in the Roman Catholic, only reproduce the same great contest in new and—specific aspects. Each system reflects the personal character and experience of its author. Pelagius was an upright monk (Of course, one may well wonder how upright a man really is, who taught heresy as Pelagius did.—H.V.) who without inward conflicts won for himself, in the way of tranquil developments, a legal piety which knew neither the depths of sin nor the heights of grace. Augustine, on the other hand, passed through sharp convulsions and bitter conflicts, till he was overtaken by the unmerited grace of God, and created anew to a life of faith and love. Pelagius had a singularly clear, though contracted mind, and the earnest moral purpose, but no enthusiasm for lofty ideals; and hence he found it not hard to realize his lower standard of holiness. Augustine had a bold and soaring intellect, and glowing heart, and only found peace after he had long been tossed by the waves of passion; he had tasted all the misery of sin, and then all the glory of redemption, and this experience qualified him to understand and set forth these antagonistic powers far better than his opponent, and with a strength and fulness surpassed only by the inspired apostle Paul. Indeed, Augustine, of all the fathers, most resembles, in experience and doctrine, this very apostle, and stands next to him in his influence upon the Reformers.
The Pelagian controversy turns upon the mighty antithesis of sin and grace. It embraces the whole cycle of doctrine respecting the ethical and religious relation of man to God, and included, therefore, the doctrines of human freedom, of the primitive state, of the fall, of regeneration and conversion, of the eternal purpose of redemption, and of the nature and operation of the grace of God. It comes at last to the question, whether redemption is chiefly a work of God or of man; whether man needs to be born anew, or merely improved (And we may add to this that Augustine also championed the cause of God’s unchangeable and sovereign counsel of predestination.—H.V.). The soul of the Pelagian system is human freedom; the soul of the Augustinian is divine grace. Pelagius starts from the natural man, and works up, by his own exertions, to righteousness and holiness. Augustine despairs of the moral sufficiency of man, and derives the new life and all power for good from the creative grace of God. The one system proceeds from the liberty of choice to legalistic piety; the other from the bondage of sin to the evangelical liberty of the children of God. To the former Christ is merely a teacher and example, and grace an external auxiliary to the development of the native powers of man; to the latter he is also Priest and King, and grace a creative principle, which begets, nourishes, and consummates a new life. The former makes regeneration and conversion a gradual process of the strengthening and perfecting of human virtue; the latter makes it a complete transformation, in which the old disappears and all becomes new. The one loves to admire the dignity and strength of man; the other loses itself in adoration of the glory and omnipotence of God. The one flatters natural pride, the other is a gospel for penitent publicans and sinners. Pelagianism begins with self-exaltation and ends with the sense of self-deception and impotency. Augustianism casts man first into the dust of humiliation and despair, in order to lift him on the wings of grace to supernatural strength, and leads him through the hell of self-knowledge up to the heaven of the knowledge of God. The Pelagian system is clear, sober, and intelligible, but superficial; the Augustinian sounds the depths of knowledge and experience, and renders reverential homage to mystery. Schaff declares here that the Pelagian system is clear and intelligible. This, of course, is true only in a very superficial sense of the word. Really, all Pelagianism and Arminianism is not clear and intelligible. Nothing that detracts from the glory of the alone sovereign God and the absolute hopelessness and. impotency of the sinner is-clear and intelligible. It is not clear and understandable to teach that the sinner can will both, the good and the evil; and it is certainly not clear and intelligible to teach that the living God, almighty and irresistible, desires to, save all men and must be content with the salvation of but a few. This presentation simply does not make sense.—H.V.) The former is grounded upon the philosophy of common sense, which is indispensable for ordinary life, but has not perception of divine things; the latter is grounded upon the philosophy of the regenerate reason, which breaks through the limits of nature, and penetrates the depths of divine revelation. The former starts with the proposition: Intellectus pracecdit fidem (intellect precedes faith—H.V.); the latter with the opposite maxim: Fides praecedit intellectum. Both make use of the Scriptures; the one, however, conforming them to reason, the other subjecting reason to them. Pelagianism has an unmistakable affinity with rationalism, and supplies its practical side. To the natural will of the former system corresponds the natural reason of the latter; and as the natural will, according to Pelagianism, is competent to good, so is the natural reason, according to rationalism, competent to the knowledge of the truth. All rationalists are Pelagian in their anthropology (the doctrine of man,—H.V.); but Pelagius and Coelestius (a disciple of Pelagius, who in many ways outshone his teacher,—H.V.) were not consistent, and declared their agreement with the traditional orthodoxy in all other doctrines, though without entering into their deeper meaning and connection. Even divine mysteries may be believed in a purely external mechanical way, by inheritance from the past, as the history of theology, especially in the East, abundantly proves.
The true solution of the difficult question respecting the relation of divine grace to human freedom. in the work of conversion, is not found in the denial of either factor; for this would either elevate man to the dignity of a self-redeemer, or degrade him to an irrational machine, and would ultimately issue either in fatalistic pantheism or in atheism; but it must be sought in such a reconciliation of the two factors as gives full weight both to the sovereignty of God and to the responsibility of man, yet assigns a preeminence to the divine agency corresponding to the infinite exaltation of the Creator and Redeemer above the sinful creature.
To the above we wish to add the following. It is well to lay full emphasis upon both truths, the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. But we must not fail to lay full emphasis upon the sovereignty of God. And we must never explain the responsibility of man in such a way as to detract from the Scriptural truth of God’s absolute sovereignty. This responsibility of man can never mean that the sinner is responsible in the sense that he can will the good and the evil. He is surely responsible, accountable for all his actions, but it must always be understood that he is conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses. A church has never departed from the truth because it had laid full and proper emphasis upon the truth that God is God, and He alone.