Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 50 [XXXI.]--Why It is that Death Itself is Not Abolished, Along with Sin, by Baptism.
He might, however, have also conferred this upon believers, that they should not even experience the death of their body. But if He had done this, there might no doubt have been added a certain felicity to the flesh, but the fortitude of faith would have been diminished; for men have such a fear of death, that they would declare Christians happy, for nothing else than their mere immunity from dying. And no one would, for the sake of that life which is to be so happy after death, hasten to the grace of Christ by the power of his contempt of death itself; but with a view to remove the trouble of death, would rather resort to a more delicate mode of believing in Christ. More grace, therefore, than this has He conferred on those who believe on Him; and a greater gift, undoubtedly, has He vouchsafed to them! What great matter would it have been for a man, on seeing that people did not die when they became believers, himself also to believe that he was not to die? How much greater a thing is it, how much braver, how much more laudable, so to believe, that although one is sure to die, he can still hope to live hereafter for evermore! At last, upon some there will be bestowed this blessing at the last day, that they shall not feel death itself in sudden change, but shall be caught up along with the risen in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, and so shall they ever live with the Lord. And rightly shall it be these who receive this grace, since there will be no posterity after them to be led to believe, not by the hope of what they see not, but by the love of what they see. This faith is weak and nerveless, and must not be called faith at all, inasmuch as faith is thus defined: |Faith is the firmness of those who hope, the clear proof of things which they do not see.| Accordingly, in the same Epistle to the Hebrews, where this passage occurs, after enumerating in subsequent sentences certain worthies who pleased God by their faith, he says: |These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but seeing them afar off, and hailing them, and confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.| And then afterwards he concluded his eulogy on faith in these words: |And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, did not indeed receive God's promises; for they foresaw better things for us, and that without us they could not themselves become perfect.| Now this would be no praise for faith, nor (as I said) would it be faith at all, were men in believing to follow after rewards which they could see, -- in other words, if on believers were bestowed the reward of immortality in this present world.