I like how Augustine and Fulgentius and others in the early church talk about predestination. They teach what the Bible says on these matters, but they have a sort of holy reverence for the doctrine so that they don’t speak about such mysteries lightly.
I find the way in which some young Calvinistic people talk about predestination and reprobation harsh. And so did Augustine, and in his work on Perseverance, he instructs a group of people to teach on this doctrine without harshness. After all, Augustine says, you are talking to Christians in church! Why not assume the best about them.
And so we can make salvation feel like the whims of God’s will, even though that is far away from the truth. God’s essential goodness alone provides the ground for his predestining grace given to us in time as the Spirit awakens faith in our hearts.
Predestination is good news that God gives grace to people who don’t merit it by their good works, because they cannot; the one who sins, Jesus tells us, is a slave to sin. And so we are all enslaved to sin because all people die; and death, as Paul says, is the wages of sin. So if we all die, we must all sin; and if we sin, we must all be slaves of sin.
So only can God’s grace that awakens our evil will to make it a good will save us. That is, predestination saves us because grace awakens our faith and hearts; grace is predestination applied in time, or actualized to use the older language.
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It seems to me that grace and predestination during the era of Augustine and forward has much more biblical balance than the debates on similar matters do today. The same thing seems true when it comes to questions of grace and predestination during the Reformation.
In both eras, the focus on God’s predestination centred on God’s grace in saving sinners against a notion that we some how merit a reward through preceding good works — preceding our faith.
Yet today, at least as I notice people writing online and debating amongst themselves, we seem locked into a debate about God being sovereign at a more abstract level and humans being able to respond in faith to the Gospel.
I am not saying those questions were absent in the above two eras. That’s not my point. I am speaking of emphases. But where I see this most clearly is that for Augustine and for Calvin (among others) predestination means that God’s grace freely saves sinners, since they cannot merit a reward due to either condign nor congruent merit.
During the Reformation, this mattered because even good and godly men in the Roman church of that era befuddled this distinction, allowing for a kind of congruent merit to precede God’s saving grace (or infused justice). While many could hold sufficient nuance in their own minds to avoid forms of Pelagianism, this theology was pastorally ruinous.
It led many to think of merit before God as something we can do—”do what is in you” as some doctors said.
But the reason why predestination in Augustine and Calvin and others was so important is because it gave priority to God’s grace, not preceding works, even works of congruent and not condign merit.So in my view, the Reformers fell on the side of Holy Scripture as Augustine did.
Predestination confirms the truth that grace is free; if predestination is not true, then grace rewards or follows after some preceding work, even if that work is one of congruence, only honoured by God due to a covenantal promise, as someone like Gabriel Biel might have argued (and which Luther rejected).
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The reason why predestination and perseverance go hand in hand is not so much so that we think about free choice and good works but in order to show that the salvation from beginning to end is an act of God’s grace and mercy.
That said, perseverance requires that we do the good works that God has set out for us (e.g., Eph 2:10). So the work of faith, that is, the works faith produce are part of the gracious gift of God (e.g., 1 These 1:3).
Yet one should not look primarily to one’s works as evidence of salvation, that I think makes it too subjective. Granted, seeing God’s grace in your life motivates and satisfies the yearning of our hearts for goodness.
But the ground of our assurance primarily is the faith that God gives us, whether of a mustard seed or a mountain, each given by the Spirit according to a specific measure (1 Cor 12). When that faith is perfected by love (1 Cor 13; Gal 5:6), then we can see saving faith.
The reason why saving faith differs from the faith of demons (James 2) is that the former is perfected by love. And love means willing the good of another; love is active and accompanies emotion but it is not the emotion itself.
Hence, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” Were love merely an emotion and not willing the good of another, then not only Jesus’s command but also the summary of the law—the love of God and neighbour as oneself—would not make sense. Such a view might even make Jesus seem manipulative, playing on the emotions of the disciples, in order to get them to do as he says. But God is Love; love fulfills the law, because love wills the good of another.
But if we look to our works for assurance, what do we say about those who do not have the Spirit yet do good external works (teach children math, obey the law in general, etc.)? See, the particular quality of works, those drawn by faith in love’s perfection simply define Christian faithfulness.
And they, I have to admit, do have a confirmatory function in our life. But I think we should first think of faith as the ground of our assurance, then know the quality of our faith by love which fulfills the law. The works we do are an effect of that faith. And in this sense confirm. So I think there is an order to things.
But we may also say that our salvation is for good works (Eph 2:10), in part. So looking to works as assurance is also a bit odd if that’s the main thing we do, since doing good works is part of salvation. Everyone wants “self help” and to “do better.” We can in the Spirit. Seeing these good works as burdens and not the gift of God seems like a reversal of what we should be doing in any case.
All that to say, look to faith first; then see concrete love in willing the good of another as part of your saving faith and, yes, be confirmatory in this sense.
And to go back to the main point: grace is predestination applied in time, while perseverance is the form of grace that brings the grace-awakened-faith to its finish line. What do we have, that we have not been given? He begins and ends a good work in us.
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Predestination is when God wills to show his free mercy upon sinners before the world’s foundation.
Grace is predestination applied, when grace awakens our heart to believe in Jesus.
Perseverance is the form of grace that means God brings our faith to the finish line.
Grace actualizes predestination in time by granting faith, and perseverance is the form of grace that allows this faith to reach its intended end. Both are gifts of God, as Augustine states.
Predestination ensures that the priority of God’s love comes first—we love him because he loved us; perseverance ensures that the gift of faith leads to good works (Eph 2:10; James 2:22; etc.). Both are necessary because “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
Fulgentius (467-532) speaks of infused faith & the gift of faith, both sourced in God by means of divine Goodness. He means something like imputation, but readers might miss this if they lock into that one word alone & not the broader concepts at work in a writer like Fulgentius.