Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/On the Spirit and the Letter/Chapter 54
Chapter 54.—Whether Faith Be in a Man’s Own Power.
Attend now to the point which we have laid down for discussion: whether faith is in our own power? We now speak of that faith which we employ when we believe anything, not that which we give when we make a promise; for this too is called faith. We use the word in one sense when we say, “He had no faith in me,” and in another sense when we say, “He did not keep faith with me.” The one phrase means, “He did not believe what I said;” the other, “He did not do what he promised.” According to the faith by which we believe, we are faithful to God; but according to that whereby a thing is brought to pass which is promised, God Himself even is faithful to us; for the apostle declares, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” Well, now, the former is the faith about which we inquire, Whether it be in our power? even the faith by which we believe God, or believe on God. For of this it is written, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” And again, “To him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Consider now whether anybody believes, if he be unwilling; or whether he believes not, if he shall have willed it. Such a position, indeed, is absurd (for what is believing but consenting to the truth of what is said? and this consent is certainly voluntary): faith, therefore, is in our own power. But, as the apostle says: “There is no power but comes from God,” what reason then is there why it may not be said to us even of this: “What hast thou which thou hast not received?”—for it is God who gave us even to believe. Nowhere, however, in Holy Scripture do we find such an assertion as, There is no volition but comes from God. And rightly is it not so written, because it is not true: otherwise God would be the author even of sins (which Heaven forbid!), if there were no volition except what comes from Him; inasmuch as an evil volition alone is already a sin, even if the effect be wanting,—in other words, if it has not ability. But when the evil volition receives ability to accomplish its intention, this proceeds from the judgment of God, with whom there is no unrighteousness. He indeed punishes after this manner; nor is His chastisement unjust because it is secret. The ungodly man, however, is not aware that he is being punished, except when he unwillingly discovers by an open penalty how much evil he has willingly committed. This is just what the apostle says of certain men: “God hath given them up to the evil desires of their own hearts, . . .to do those things that are not convenient.” Accordingly, the Lord also said to Pilate: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” But still, when the ability is given, surely no necessity is imposed. Therefore, although David had received ability to kill Saul, he preferred sparing to striking him. Whence we understand that bad men receive ability for the condemnation of their depraved will, while good men receive ability for trying of their good will.
- [That is, in Latin, faith (“fides”) is both active and passive, and means both trust and trustworthiness, both faith and faithfulness. This is also true in English, as Augustin’s own examples illustrate—W.]
- 1 Cor. x. 13.
- Rom. iv. 3; comp. Gen. xv. 6.
- Rom. iv. 5.
- Rom. xiii. 1.
- 1 Cor. iv. 7.
- Rom. ix. 14.
- Rom. i. 24, 28.
- John xix. 11.
- 1 Sam. xxiv. 7, and xxvi. 9.