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Century V, Chapter IX

CHAP. IX.

THE THEOLOGY OF AUGUSTINE.

The serious reader, from a consideration of the Chap. mournful condition of the African churches in re- t gard to external things at the time of Augustine's death, will naturally be led to inquire what

became of them after the decease of this prelate. It is ever to be remembered, that the real prosperity of the church is not to be estimated by outward circumstances. The Roman empire was dissolving on all sides ; and its fairest provinces in Africa fell into barbarous hands at the time of Augustine's death. But the light which, through his means had been kindled, was not extinct; for, as it depended not on the grandeur of the Roman empire, so neither was it extinguished by its decline. We shall have an opportunity of visiting Africa again, and at present shall close the whole narrative of Augustine, with a brief view of his theology. The subject is important, not only as tending to illustrate the revival of the Gospel in the West in his time, but also as exhibiting the views of the best and wisest Christians in Europe from that period to the days of Luther. For a thousand years and upwards, the light of divine grace, which shone here and there in individuals, during the dreary night of superstition, was nourished by his writings, which, next to the sacred Scriptures, were the guides of men who feared God ; nor have we in all history an instance of so extensive utility derived to the church from the writings of men.

From the review of the Pelagian controversy, the attentive reader will see, that the article of justification * must be involved in Augustine's divinity ; and doubtless it savingly flourished in his heart, and in the hearts of many of his followers; yet the precise and accurate nature of the doctrine itself seems not to have been understood by this holy man. He perpetually understands St. Paul's term to Justify, of Inherent Righteousness, as if it meant, Sanctification ; still he knew what faith in the Redeemer meant; and those parts of Scripture,

* I have introduced here a few sentences out of the Theological Miscellany for September 178,5, taken from an Essay on Justification, which I wrote in that publication.

which speak of forgiveness of sins, he understands, he feels, he loves; but St. Paul's writings concerning justification he understands not sufficiently, because the precise idea of that doctrine entered not formally into his divinity.

I have given, if I mistake not, the outlines of Augustine's views in this most important Christian doctrine. It had been pitiably suffocated, as it were, in the rubbish of the growing superstition, and had been gradually sinking in the church from Justin's days to his own. And I more admire, that he was enabled to recover its constituent parts so well as he did, than that he did not arrange and adjust them perfectly. Mosheim is pleased to represent him as a contradictory writer. I suspect that this writer's prejudices warped his understanding. In truth, if our author's sentiments be understood, he will appear, from his own plan, to be one of the most consistent writers in the world ; and, if we make allowance for his mistake in the point just mentioned, which yet he implicitly, though not explicitly, understands, few writers, I think, in any age, may be read with more profit.

To what has been delivered from his writings on the subject of justification, little needs to be added here. Two quotations deserve to be read, on account of the solid truth which they contain. " He was made sin, as we are made righteousness, not our own, but of God ; nor in ourselves, but in him, as he was made sin, not his own, but ours; nor was he appointed so in himself, but in us *."

See this blessed doctrine illustrated experimentally in his exposition of the 130th Psalm, 2, 3, 4. " Behold he cries under the load of his iniquities. He looked round himself, he surveyed his life, he saw it on all sides covered with flagitiousness ; whereever he looked, he found no good in himself. And he saw on all sides so great and so many sins, that

• Enchirid. ad Lauren, c. 41.

trembling, as it were, he cried out, If thou, Lord, shouldstmark iniquities, who shall stand ? For he saw almost the whole of human life surrounded with sins, like barking dogs ; all consciences to be upbraided ; not a holy heart to be found that could presume on its own righteousness: which, because it cannot be found, therefore let every heart rest on the mercy of the Lord his God, and say, if thou, Lord, &c. But what is my hope ? There is a propitiation with thee." So constantly, in all ages, do real good men feel alike on this subject: " The humble shall hear and be glad."

The peculiar work for which Augustine was evidently raised by Providence was, to restore the doctrine of divine grace to the church. A vain philosophy had corrupted it partially under Justin, far more completely under Origen. What wonder: To trust in ourselves was the avowed boast of all the Philosophers. An idea of providential kindness in external things floated in the minds of some: but virtue and every internal excellence they expected only from themselves *. In this they only copied the impression of that self-righteousness which is natural to all. The distinguishing glory of the Gospel is to teach humility, and to give to God his due honour; and Augustine was singularly prepared for this by a course of internal experience. He had felt human insufficiency completely, and knew, " that in himself dwelt no good thing." Hence he was admirably qualified to describe the total depravity and apostasy of human nature, and he described what he knew to be true. Thus, in

• Hear Tully, de Nat. Deor. Virtutem nemo unquam Deo acceptam retulit nimirum recte ; propter virtutem enim jure laudamur, et in virtute recte gloriamur, quod non contingeret, si donum a Deo, non a nobis haberemus. It is sufficient to tell the English reader, that in this sentence the same self-sufficiency of the human heart, which mere moral preaching encourages, is expressed by the Pagan philosopher, as the undoubted creed of all mankind.

the West, the doctrine of grace was happily revived ; and romantic theories, built on mere reasonings, gave way to scriptural truth, supported by experience. And, in all ages, in spite of pride and prejudice, the doctrine of grace has this advantage over the minds of men, that conscience, wherever it is awakened to do its office, always speaks in its favour.

The rise and progress of Pelagianism gave Augustine an opportunity of illustrating the doctrine of grace in the strongest manner. He himself was by no means forward and urgent in the work. Those, who have spoken of him as heated with the spirit of controversy, knew not Augustine *. He was rather slow and cautious in controversy, and so are all men of argumentative minds and humble dispositions. He was by no means at first so clear in his ideas of salvation being altogether of grace, as he afterwards was: particularly, that faith was altogether the gift of God, was not a proposition so clear to his mind, till deeper experience and more attentive search of the Scriptures confirmed him in the truth. When, in his inquiries after divine truth, he was led to see and to be fully convinced of the total apostasy of man; and when he reflected, that he himself was changed by effectual grace, not only without the co-operation, but even in spite of the resistance of his nature, he was gradually brought to acquiesce in St. Paul's views of predestination. It was a doctrine that, with him, followed experimental religion, as a shadow follows the substance ; it was not embraced for its own sake. He wrote sparingly, however, upon it for a long time, content to give plain scripture testimonies, and fearful of involving the bulk of readers in inextricable labyrinths.

It is the impious boldness of heretics, avowedly opposing divine truths, because they are above their reason, which at length necessitates modest and cautious spirits to speak out more plainly concerning the • Viz. Grotius. '

VOL. II. H H

Chap- deep truths of God, lest they should leave them to the IX.- insults of the enemy. In the further progress of the controversy, the most daring attempts were made to erase from men's minds all ideas of grace ; and the specious attempts of Semi-Pelagianism in France seemed ready to overthrow the arguments of Augustine in the minds of many. The Eastern church, for the most part, more philosophical than the Western, was infected with those half views of grace; and, unless the bishop of Hippo meant by silence to give countenance to opinions, supported only by corrupt nature, reasoning pride, and the authority of some great names in the church, it behoved him to defend the doctrine of efficacious grace more explicitly. Me did so at length, particularly in his latter writings* ; he proves the truth from Scripture, appealing to its simple grammatical sense; and as the Antinomian contempt of the use of means appeared in some warm, but injudicious admirers of his doctrine, he states this matter also with his usual strength of argument and perspicuity, and shows the consistency between the exhortations and the decrees of God.

Another subject, of which the reader, versed in theological controversy, would wish to be informed, is, whether Augustine held " particular redemption." Very few words will suffice for this. He constantly connects the doctrine of grace with the influences of the Holy Spirit; I cannot find that he does so with the redemption of the Son of God. In one place, the text, " who would have all to be saved," is explained by him ambiguously and variously. But, in truth, whether Christ died only for the elect, or for all men, was never the object of his controversies; and certain\y, in his practical dis

* In the foregoing deduction I have attended to the progress of things, as they appear from the publication of Augustine's Works at different times. To cite particular passages would 1* tedious ; to those who read him for themselves needless, to those who do not uninteresting.

courses, he always represents the sacrifice of Christ as universal; so every preacher should do, if he ^ means to profit his hearers. On occasion of the controversies, Augustine was objected to, as denying that Christ died for all. But Prosper, his admirer and follower, and as strict a predestinarian as any writer in any age, maintains that Augustine held, " that Christ gave himself a ransom for all." Doubtless the natural and obvious sense of Scripture is the same *, and the notion of particular redemption was unknown to the ancients, and I wish it had remained equally unknown to the moderns. But let us mention the peculiar excellence of his theology.

Humility is his theme. A man may hold the doctrines of grace in the clearest manner, yet himself be proud. He may not have a distinct view of some of them, particularly that of which we have been speaking, yet he may be humble; though without some real knowledge of grace it is impossible he should be so. But the true advantage of just and accurate Christian sentiments, is, that they teach humility. Am I obliged to support the doctrines of grace by such arguments as mere human reason, unassisted by revelation, could invent? No: I confess reason in this sense is beneath them; and if I be truly humble, I shall be content to bear the scorn of philosophers for the confession. Augustine taught men what it is to be humble before God. This he does every where with godly simplicity, with inexpressible seriousness. And in doingthis no writer, uninspired, ever exceeded, I am apt to think ever equalled him, in any age. They wrong this father much, who view him as a mere controversialist. Practical godliness was his theme, and he constantly connects all his views of grace with humility f.

* See particularly 1 Tim. ii.

f This virtue ever appears conspicuous in Augustine, and perpetually checks the daring and adventurous spirit of investigation, which, as a man of genius and letters, formed a striking part of

Few writers have been equal to him in describing the internal conflict of flesh and spirit, mysterious but certain, ignorantly confounded by philosophers with the conflict between reason and passion, and misrepresented by the profane as enthusiastic. He describes this in a manner unknown to any but those who have deeply felt it; and the Pelagian pretensions to perfection oblige him to say more than otherwise would be needful, to prove that the most humble, and the most holy, have, through life, to combat with indwelling sin.

Two more practical subjects he delights to handle, charity * and heavenly-mindedness. In both he excels wonderfully, and I shall only wish young stu

his character. In speaking of the difficulties attending the doctrine of original sin, he abhors every idea of attempting to solve them in an unscriptural manner. He chooses rather to be content with his ignorance. " Though I now desire, and beg earnestly of God that he will help me out of my ignorance by your means (he is writing to JeiomJ); nevertheless, if I cannot obtain it, I will pray for patience ; since we believe in him, with a promise never to murmur, though he doth not lead - us into perfect knowledge of some particular things. I am ignorant of many things, more than I can enumerate."

* I do not remember to have seen a controversial writer of so charitable a spirit as Augustine, in matters of dispute. The proofs of this are endless. Take a single instance, and see how he treats an opponent. " If, in the heat of the dispute, an injurious word may have escaped him, I am willing to think it arose from the necessity of supporting his opinions, rather than from the design of offending me. For when I am a stranger to the temper of a man, 1 think it much better to have a good opinion of him, than to blame him too hastily. Perhaps he had a kind intention, designing to undeceive me. In that case I am obliged to him for bis good will, though I am under a necessity of disapproving his sentiments ||."

His own practice which he mentions, deserves to be attended to by all controversialists: " When I answer any person in speaking or writing, though provoked by contumelious language, so far as the Lord affords to me, I bridle myself, and restrain the spurs of vain indignation ; I consult for the hearer or reader, and thus endeavour not to be superior to another in railing, but to be more salutary by convincing him of his error. B. 3. against Petilian.

- - $ Letters to Jerom. Aug. Ep. 165. || Ep. 166.

derits in divinity to convince themselves of this by reading him. A reference of all things to a future life, and the depth of humble love, appear in all his writings ; as in truth, from the moment of his conversion, they influenced all his practice. For he never seems to have lost his first love. Hence there js manifest in his works a singular innocence of spirit. No pride, no self-conceit, no bitterness, ever discover themselves in any expression. Calm, equable, modest, cautious of offending, never pathetic, except when roused by zealous love of God and his neighbour; these are the lights in which he constantly exhibits himself. The times were highly unfavourable, the defects of superstition often cloud his writings; yet, at intervals, he vigorously struggles against it, and in one passage particularly laments the growing servilities, the straining at a gnat, and the swallowing of a camel, owning that he conformed, through love of peace and charity, to some things.

His own words well deserve to be quoted, as they evidence the power of good sense and divine grace united in withstanding the prevailing torrent. "I * cannot approve the new practices introduced almost with as much solemnity as sacraments; neither dare I censure them too freely, lest I should give offence to any one; but it grieves me, that so many salutary precepts of Scripture should be held cheap, while our religion abounds with commandments of mere men.—Therefore, as to all those customs which are not contained in the Scripture, ordained by councils, or sanctioned by the tradition of the church, and which do not carry in their appearance an evident reason for their existence, I am free to say, they ought to be laid aside. Admit, it cannot be proved, that they are contrary to the faith; yet they burden religion with servile usages, which God, in his mercy, intended to make free: in this respect * Ep. to Januarius, 119..

Chap. the condition of the Jews is more tolerable ; they *' . are subject indeed, but to divine ordinances, not to the precepts of men. However, the Church, surrounded as she is with chaff and tares, endures many things, yet she cannot tolerate what is contrary to Christian faith and practice." He particularly condemns the custom of divining by the Gospel, and of managing temporal concerns according to words which strike the eye at the first opening of the book.

His conduct toward the Donatists bids the fairest for reprehension; but he acted sincerely: you differ with him in judgment, but it is impossible for you to blame his temper and spirit, if you read him candidly. He carefully checks his people for calumniating the Donatists, and is constantly employed in moderating and healing.

Finally, in Ethics he is superior to most. On the subject of veracity and of faithfulness to oaths, and in general in the practice of justice, in the love of mercy, and in walking humbly with his God, a? he wrote most admirably, so he practised most sincerely.