Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 7 [VI.]--Four Questions on the Perfection of Righteousness: (1.) Whether a Man Can Be Without Sin in This Life.
Now those who aver that a man can exist in this life without sin, must not be immediately opposed with incautious rashness; for if we should deny the possibility, we should derogate both from the free will of man, who in his wish desires it, and from the power or mercy of God, who by His help effects it. But it is one question, whether he could exist; and another question, whether he does exist. Again, it is one question, if he does not exist when he could exist, why he does not exist; and another question, whether such a man as had never sinned at all, not only is in existence, but also could ever have existed, or can ever exist. Now, if in the order of this fourfold set of interrogative propositions, I were asked, [1st,] Whether it be possible for a man in this life to be without sin? I should allow the possibility, through the grace of God and the man's own free will; not doubting that the free will itself is ascribable to God's grace, in other words, to the gifts of God, -- not only as to its existence, but also as to its being good, that is, to its conversion to doing the commandments of God. Thus it is that God's grace not only shows what ought to be done, but also helps to the possibility of doing what it shows. |What indeed have we that we have not received?| Whence also Jeremiah says: |I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man to walk and direct his steps.| Accordingly, when in the Psalms one says to God, |Thou hast commanded me to keep Thy precepts diligently,| he at once adds not a word of confidence concerning himself but a wish to be able to keep these precepts: |O that my ways,| says he, |were directed to keep Thy statutes! Then should I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all Thy commandments? Now who ever wishes for what he has already so in his own power, that he requires no further help for attaining it? To whom, however, he directs his wish, -- not to fortune, or fate, or some one else besides God, -- he shows with sufficient clearness in the following words, where he says: |Order my steps in Thy word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.| From the thraldom of this execrable dominion they are liberated, to whom the Lord Jesus gave power to become the sons of God. From so horrible a domination were they to be freed, to whom He says, |If the Son shall make you free, then shall ye be free indeed.| From these and many other like testimonies, I cannot doubt that God has laid no impossible command on man; and that, by God's aid and help, nothing is impossible, by which is wrought what He commands. In this way may a man, if he pleases, be without sin by the assistance of God.