Monday, March 15, 2010

Perseverance, Grace, and Augustine's "Posse"

The perseverance of the saints is the final topic in the acrostic TULIP.  It is not surprising that this is quickly mentioned here.  It is a natural outflowing of the rest of reformed theology.  We believe that it is God's grace that saves us - 100%.  There is absolutely nothing we can do in order to earn God's grace.  By saying that there is a possibility that we could lose that grace, that would indicate that we did something to earn it in the first place.  To believe that you are elect through God's grace, but to not believe in the perseverance of the saints is illogical.  In a nutshell, this is what Calvin describes in this section.  Election, and therefore perseverance, is exclusively God's work.  We take no active role in either.

Some theologians of Calvin's day were misinterpreting I Corinthians 15:10, specifically the last half which reads, "...but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me," (NIV).  These theologians believed that Paul was correcting himself and then calling himself a co-worker with God's grace.  Calvin is surprisingly gentle with the people who thought this way.  He calls them "good men" who "stumbled on this straw."  He corrects them by saying, "For the apostle does not write that the grace of the Lord labored with him to make him a partner in the labor.  Rather, by this correction he transfers all credit for labor to grace alone."

The next section is very important.  Calvin quotes quite a bit from Augustine's writings.  Augustine wrote about the condition of man at different points.  The original condition of Adam was posse non peccare - or in English - he had the ability to not sin.  He also had the ability to sin, but more importantly he could refrain from sinning.  He eventually gave into temptation, thus we have the Fall.  Post-Fall Adam and the state that we are all born into is non posse non peccare or he did not have the ability to not sin.  What Calvin quotes from Augustine here is different from what modern Reformed theologians tend to believe.  Calvin writes about a third state, non posse peccare or not able to sin.  This is the state of being in grace.  Calvin clarifies that this is not a state "of perfection to come after immortality."  The way I understand Calvin's position is that he must have been speaking of the forgiveness of sins.  Because of Christ, we are forgiven - our debt has been paid.  I was taught that non posse peccare was the state of glorification that we will obtain only after our physical death.  Post-conversion Christians live in a state like pre-Fall Adam, posse non peccare.  It is interesting to see the difference here and I am going to have to chew on this for a while.  Calvin concludes this section with another quote from Augustine, "Grace alone brings about every good work in us."

Calvin and Augustine clarify that we still have a will.  Calvin writes, "Elsewhere [Augustine] says that will is not taken away by grace, but is changed from evil into good, and helped when it is good.  By this he means only that man is not borne along without any motion of the heart, as if by an outside force; rather, he is so affected within that he obeys from the heart."  He concludes the chapter still quoting Augustine, "...that except through grace the will can neither be converted to God nor abide in God; and whatever it can do it is able to do only through grace."  I think that all of today's reading can be summed up with two Latin words, Sola gratia, by grace alone.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.4.1-2.4.3

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